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“A disturbing feature of the crisis in Egypt has been the paucity of any discussion of the implications of the possible rise of fanatical Islamists for Christians,” Spero News reports.

By Angela Shanahan

4/1/2011 Egypt (Spero News) – A disturbing feature of the crisis in Egypt has been the paucity of any discussion of the implications of the possible rise of fanatical Islamists for Christians, particularly the sizeable Coptic Christian population, estimated at between 10-15 percent of the Egyptian population. The few vague references to their fate were generally voiced as an afterthought to reflections on the repression of women.

This puzzling gap is characteristic of Western analysts who respond only to political and economic explanations. But these have little to do with the deeper social historical complexities of the Middle East and everything to do with religion and the culture. Western analysts seldom understand the importance of religion. Unless conflict has an overt political face it is usually a mystery to them. Yet Christians were out on the street with their fellow Egyptians when Mubarak was ousted, desperate to ward off an Islamic take-over.

In fact the persecution of Copts has intensified over the past 20 years even though few in the West have paid attention to it.

The Copts are the descendants of the original Pharonaic Egyptians and their liturgical language is the closest thing we have to demotic Egyptian spoken in Roman times. Christianity was introduced by the Evangelist Mark as early as 42 AD and flourished for hundreds of years. The Christian monastic tradition began in Egypt. In fact Islam did not dominate Egypt until the end of the 12th century.

The lack of interest in the fate of the Copts is doubly curious because a terrible massacre on New Year’s day (the Coptic Christmas) was widely reported. The Coptic bishop of Melbourne, Suriel, told me that the revolution began with the massacre. It is easier to attack a church than a police station.

The Copts are used to these atrocities, although this was the bloodiest of a series of attacks against Christians by fanatical Muslims. The number of massacres has been shocking — there have been at least 40 incidents in the last 10 years. There is also daily discrimination in jobs and education, property ownership and most particularly in freedom of belief and worship. New churches are routinely destroyed or desecrated. It is very difficult for an Egyptian Muslim to convert to Christianity. The government will not recognise the change of religion on ID cards and makes it difficult for such people to leave the country. There are numerous stories of converted spouses being persecuted and even kidnapped.

The Wall Street Journal recently interviewed a secular Muslim who expressed his own fears about the rising menace of Islamists:  “The issue is not that they have gotten stronger since the revolution. It is that they are getting bolder. There is no counterbalance to their street dominance in certain poor neighborhoods. They’re not scared of the government. They’re not scared of being prosecuted.”

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