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Egypt’s uprising stirs fears of persecution of minority Coptic Christians

ICC Note:

“With attacks on Christians already increasing in the Middle East, the populist uprising in Egypt has triggered fears among some that the region’s largest non-Muslim population – Egypt’s 7 million Coptic Christians – could be at risk,” The Washington Post reports.

By Michelle Boorstein

2/4/2011 Egypt (Washington Post) – With attacks on Christians already increasing in the Middle East, the populist uprising in Egypt has triggered fears among some that the region’s largest non-Muslim population – Egypt’s 7 million Coptic Christians – could be at risk.

Copt leaders in the United States said they are terrified that a new Egyptian government with a strong Islamic fundamentalist bent would persecute Christians. They are quietly lobbying the Obama administration to do more to protect Christians in Muslim countries and are holding prayer vigils and fasts, such as one that ended Wednesday evening at Copt churches across the country, including four in the Washington area.

“The current situation for the Copts stinks, but [longtime Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak is the best of the worst for us,” said the Rev. Paul Girguis of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in Fairfax County, which has about 3,000 members. “If Muslim extremists take over, the focus will be extreme persecution against Copts. Some people even predict genocide.”

Their trepidation stems from repeated attacks on churches in Iraq, where hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled in recent years, and from the New Year’s Day bombing of a Coptic church in Egypt that killed almost two dozen worshipers and wounded nearly 100. The Coptic Church is one of the oldest Christian institutions in the world and is based in Egypt.

“Egypt is the bellwether because its Christian community is so large and is the strongest in the Middle East,” said Paul Marshall, a global religious freedom expert and a fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute. “What happens to Christians in Egypt is very significant. Everyone is watching.”

So far, the protests have focused on jobs, free speech and democratic elections, not religion, so it’s unclear what the end of Mubarak’s rule would mean for religious minorities. But in recent years, Iraq has lost about half its historical Christian population because of persecution, and Christians have been leaving Iran and Lebanon in lesser numbers.

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