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ICC NOTE: Journalist Sally Bihai’s commentary on Coptic Christians and how it affects their education and political opportunities.

Putting a Face on Persecution

By Sally Bishai (02/16/2006)

For the full article go to:

As I’ve written a million times before, the Copts, or the Christians of Egypt, are subject to several types of persecution on several different levels, and it’s all because they choose to follow Jesus.

Or because they refuse to convert.

But despite all of the talk about “persecution,” “disenfranchisement,” and “discrimination,” I don’t think that it’s readily apparent to my Western—and Western-raised—readers just WHAT persecution looks like. (I found this out as I was shooting my documentary on the Copts, but more on that another day..)

Sure, there’s the blatant persecution that ends in bloodshed, riots, and mayhem. Anyone can imagine that, whether Anglo American, British Black, or Canadian-born Coptic.


There’s a more insidious type that ends up happening much more frequently than the not-infrequent riots that happen, erm, not-infrequently.

Since many people outside of Egypt don’t hear about this type (it rarely makes the news, and only a relative handful of people—myself included—devote time to writing about it), I’ve decided to devote today’s column to putting a face on this discrimination against Christians. In Egypt , I mean. (More on discrimination against Christians in America at a later date, so watch out.)

This is not to say that others in Egypt—or the world, for that matter—aren’t persecuted in this manner, only that I’m sticking with one topic for once in my life, and that is (for today, anyway) the Copts.

First, I want you to imagine the faces of some of your buddies from Church, Synagogue, or Mosque.

Now, think back a few years to your college days, and imagine the dean of your college.

If you happen to be a Christian, then the smiling faces of your Church cronies could never have done double duty in the imagination exercise of 2 minutes ago.

Why? Well, because.

In Egypt , if you’re a Christian, you aren’t allowed into the post of College dean. Or University President

True story: A friend of mine in an Egyptian medical school was up for neurosurgery or some exalted career path that would please any Egyptian parent. He had the best grades in the class, and everyone knew it. But when assignment time rolled around and a choice posting for a prestigious residency surfaced, the honcho in charge pulled my friend aside and gave him a mini-lecture:

“Now John, you know that you have the highest marks in everything, but the truth is, I can’t give you this posting because you’re a Christian. You deserve it, but I’d get the boot if I recommended you. I know you understand…”

My young friend did understand—only too well—and moved to the West. Both he and his now-grown daughters hold the top medical posts in their respective hospitals.

Back to persecution, though, I want to give you some more examples of jobs that Christians in Egypt could never hope to have. If things don’t change, that is..

I’d like to begin with that of Governor, but the thing is that Hosni Mubarak recently appointed a Copt as the governor of 1/26th of Egypt .

On the surface, this seems a victory, but 1- let’s just wait and see if it is, and 2- a riot (with fatalities) has just recently happened (last month, actually) when some Muslims tried to stop a church from being built. The riot happened in Odaysat, a village governed by the lone Coptic governor in Egypt .

In a related matter, no Copt should hope for the post of any county’s Chief of Police, or even Assistant Chief of Police.

Neither should Egyptians with the names “Mina,” “Kyrillos” or “Shenouda” hope for the presidency of any city council, or membership in any of the presidential or high national councils (dealing with Radio, TV, Judiciary things, etc.). For the record, these names are totally Coptic ones.

Moving right along, we find that Copts also can’t be a chief security officer (of any rank), an intelligence officer, or the head of any national bank.

It goes without saying, too, that a Copt—even a secular one—will never take the presidency in Egypt .

Although there is a good chance that the Muslim might get someone in there at some point, unless there is a complete separation of “mosque and state,” as it were. (I don’t think that will happen anytime soon, for the record.)

And for those who think the Muslim Brotherhood is discriminated against, I should like to point out that 1- one CHOOSES to belong to the Brotherhood, and 2- the government doesn’t emblazon this status on the National ID Card, as far as I know.

On the other hand, one doesn’t choose to be born a Copt (which is an ethnicity, not a religion or political party), although they have the options of remaining Christian—whether unreligious, unpracticing, secular, etc.—or converting to any other religion.

And if they remain Christian, their status is faithfully recorded on the National ID Card.