A special Report by ICC
04/20/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The rise of Islamist politics in Egypt coincides with the recent spike in kidnapping of Christians, raising concerns over whether the new leadership has emboldened extremists and criminals to target Christians for persecution.
On Jan. 29, Ezzat Kromer, a father of three, was snatched and shoved into a vehicle on his way home from work. One of the masked gunmen fired a shot between his feet and warned him, saying: “The next one will go into your heart.” The Christian gynecologist was forced to lie down under their feet in the backseat, for a 45-minute drive before being dumped into a small cold room while his captors contacted his family and made their demands for a ransom.
Over the next 27 hours, he endured beatings, insults and threats to his life, while blindfolded with a bandage sealing his mouth and cotton balls in his ears. He was released the next day for a ransom of 270,000 Egyptian pounds, nearly $40,000.
“I cannot begin to tell you how horrifying that experience was,” Kromer told The Associated Press in his hometown of Matai, in the region of Minya, where a recent wave of kidnappings has seen Christians become the chief targets. Even as he recovers from injuries sustained during torture, he is already making plans to leave Egypt, feeling that it is no longer a country for Christians. “There are consequences to Islamist rule. Things are bad now. What is coming will certainly be worse,” he said.
Egyptian Christians have also seen an increase in the disappearance of girls, who are later found out to have converted to Islam and married Muslim men. They accuse conservative clerics of encouraging conversions, which often ignite deadly fights between families that can turn into a cycle of blood feuds, according to Fox News.
On Feb. 14, Ishaq Aziz’s 17-year-old daughter Nirmeen went missing, fueling speculation that she had converted and would reappear with a Muslim husband once she turns 18. In preparing for violent retaliation, the family have sold some farmland to buy firearms. The father threatens to kill his daughter and her husband, for the sake of honor, before turning the guns against the groom’s family. “But we will happily take her back if she comes back with her faith intact. Even if she is pregnant, a cousin will marry her,” he told Associated Press, wiping a tear from his eyes.
Since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, crime has increased throughout Egypt, affecting even Muslims. But the wave of kidnappings in Minya – home to the country’s largest concentration of Christians and a heartland for hardened extremists – seems to have targeted Christians exclusively.
Over the past two years, there have been more than 150 reported kidnappings in Minya, 37 of them in the last several months alone. Some victims have been children and all of them were Christians, a top official at the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, told the Associated Press. Aidan Clay, ICC’s Middle-East Regional Manager, says, “Previously, the victims were primarily Christian girls who were kidnapped for the purpose of being married to older Muslim men. While girls continue to be kidnapped, we are now seeing wealthy Christians being kidnapped for ransom as well.”
In early 2011, a historic revolution brought an end to the rule of Mubarak, but it also left the door open for the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. The political group was previously banned under the Mubarak regime, but has since come to power in Egypt through their Freedom and Justice Party. Under the former dictatorship, Islamic extremism could not get a foothold in the country. But with the Muslim Brotherhood now in power, criminals and extremist groups have been emboldened to target Christians for persecution, extortion and exploitation.
Clay also says, “The rising number of kidnappings evidences Egypt’s increasingly hostile environment toward religious minorities following the country’s 2011 revolution that gave power to an Islamist-dominated government. Police often refuse to carry out investigations against alleged kidnappings when Christians are the victims and perpetrators are rarely punished, making the Christian community increasingly vulnerable to abductions and other acts of violence.”
The problem is compounded by the ongoing blame game between Muslims, Christians and the government. The police refuse to take responsibility, saying that Christians don’t report the crimes, but instead negotiate with the kidnappers directly. Christians say that they don’t trust the police, accusing them of not investigating crimes against Christians and treating them as second-class citizens. Islamists deny any suggestion that the crimes have any anti-Christian motive, despite Christians being the only victims of kidnapping in Minya, not to mention the growing anti-Christian rhetoric of ultraconservative Muslim clerics in sermons and on religious TV stations.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood frequently speaks of their respect for Christian rights, it often suggests that Christians will never be treated as equal with Muslims. Yasser Hamza, an official in the Brotherhood’s party, said in a TV interview: “This is an Islamic nation with an overwhelming Muslim majority...The minority doesn’t have absolute rights, it has relative rights.”
As the kidnappings continue, Egypt is hard-pressed to address the core issues that perpetuate the crime wave against Christians in Minya and even Muslims in other regions: the view of Christians as second-class citizens, the failure of the judicial system to protect Christians and the rise of anti-Christian hostility in the country. Until Egypt responds by providing and protecting equal rights for all citizens, regardless of their religion, Christians will remain vulnerable to extremists and criminals who continue to target them for persecution, with impunity.