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Religious Tension Imperils Egypt ‘s Unity

ICC Note

The growing attacks against Christians in Egypt and the failure of the Egyptian government to protect the Christians from the attacks endanger the country’s unity.

By Claude Salhani

06/16/2008 Egypt (Middle East Times)-Violence has erupted in recent weeks between Christians and Muslims in various parts of Egypt, bringing to the forefront an age-old problem in a country considered a leading U.S. ally in the Middle East and where a more moderate – and tolerant – form of Islam is practiced.

Still, to say that Egypt ‘s Christian Copts – 16 million in a country of 81.7 million – have coexisted peacefully with the Muslim majority may be stretching the truth. While the two communities have largely gotten along over the years, there have been periodic clashes, some of them violent, some of them leaving many dead and wounded.

When the Muslims became the majority in Egypt around the middle of the first century, Egypt ‘s Christians and followers of St. Mark the apostle and evangelist, known as Copts, found themselves relegated to the position of second-class citizens.

“What is happening to our Coptic brothers … is no longer a matter of sporadic incidents,” wrote Aswani. “It is open season on Egypt ‘s Copts,” said the Egyptian writer, in a dispatch translated from Arabic by the Middle East Media Research Institute.

And following a Friday sermon, worshipers were incited to set fire to Christian homes in a village on the pretext that these ‘infidels’ seek to turn one such home into a church that will pollute the pure village – the [allegations that sparked the incident] are later proven untrue.

The Egyptian writer sees this as “an attempt to terrorize the Copts … and force them … to either emigrate or convert.”

In turning a blind eye on some of these “incidents” targeting Egypt ‘s Copts, the Egyptian government of President Hosni Mubarak may think they are appeasing the more radical elements within their society. In truth, they are not. By ignoring religion-based violence, Egypt has inadvertently set down ground rules for more such attacks.

Ironically, in the 21st century far too many people continue to be killed, arrested, tortured or discriminated against in other ways purely for their religious affiliation.

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