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Middle East Christians Vie For Religious Freedom in Qatar, Egypt

Middle East Christians Vie For Religious Freedom In Qatar , Egypt

ICC Note

Christian minorities living in Muslim countries such as Egypt and Qatar are discriminated against for their faith.

By Christopher Rosacker

07/20/2009 Islam (The Huffington Post)-The church where Greek Orthodox Ft. Makarios Makarios will hold services in the Arabian Gulf state of Qatar hasn't been built yet. Right now, it is a construction site just poking out of the sand, just a mile south of the Qatari capital of Doha .

Arriving there one early Friday morning for liturgy, he walks through the site, past sand piles and unused two-by-fours, to a cement basement entrance. By 10:30 am, 60 members have seated themselves inside, among mismatched rows for a two-hour service.

Its resemblance to a bunker is coincidental, but it is the only place in Qatar where Christians can safely pray. "After a long time, we are getting the opportunity to have our own place," Makarios said.

The estimated 175,000 Christians in Qatar are cautiously building the foundation to practice their faith within this conservative country in the Muslim world. But while they move forward to that goal, many Christians in Egypt say they are trying to hang on to the freedoms they have long enjoyed.

A few months ago, a crude car bomb was set off outside a popular church for pilgrims in Cairo where the apparition of the Holy Mary was witnessed. Outside the churches in Coptic Cairo, access is now restricted by police checkpoints and roadblocks.

Adding to tensions was a controversial decision in April by Egypt 's government to slaughter the country's entire pig population to prevent the H1N1 flu virus from spreading in the country (that didn't work). Egypt 's pig farmers are all Christian, and they interpreted the decision as an attack against them because of their faith.

Egyptian Copts cite other examples of discrimination, such as employment signs that read "Muslims Only." In turn, many Copts bear tattooed crosses on their wrists and on necklaces to identify themselves to one another.

It partly is an issue of perception. According to a recent study by C1 World Dialogue Foundation, an interfaith group that includes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair, 45 percent of Egyptians look unfavorably upon Christians.

In Qatar , tensions aren't aired publicly, partly because most Christians keep concerns to themselves, worried that speaking out will result in their deportation.

Much of their worship is also private; many choose to pray in small groups at home. At the church complex near Doha , no crosses will be visible, as it is forbidden for non-Muslim religious symbols to be displayed in Qatar . Parish leaders also advised congregants not to wear crosses around their necks or hang them on rear-view mirrors.

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