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ICC Note: The following video report provides a firsthand look at the targeting and abuse of Coptic Christians in Egypt over the past few months. As the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, Copts have a long history of survival in the midst of difficult circumstances but the targeting in the past few months has reached dangerous levels. As Islamist political parties have gained more space in public life and the hold of military dictators has loosened the situation for Christians has become even more dangerous.
9/20/2013 Egypt (PBS) – Coptic Christians have been a part of the social fabric of Egypt for centuries, but in recent history they have also become a target for assault and discrimination. In the days since the ouster of former President Morsi, Coptic churches have been attacked in some of Egypt’s most fiercely Islamist areas. Margaret Warner reports.
PBS: Video Report
The attackers came at night to the Church of the Virgin Mary, for more than 60 years a Coptic Christian sanctuary in the village of Kafr Hakim.
Fifi Awad worshiped there.
FIFI AWAD, Egypt (through interpreter): They attacked the church. They took everything they could take, the generator, the refrigerator, even bags they thought had donation money. Then they burned the first and second floors and said, “Allahu akbar.”
MARGARET WARNER: Guard Emile Moussa was on the job, but he felt powerless.
EMILE MOUSSA, guard (through interpreter): A march came towards the church yelling, “Islamic, Islamic” and cursing the pope and Christians. I started to call the police and the military, but no one answered.
MARGARET WARNER: The timing was no coincidence. Earlier that day, August 14, hundreds of Egyptians were killed by security forces as they cleared two sit-ins protesting the military’s ouster of Egypt’s president, Mohammed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Retaliation came swiftly against Christian churches and police stations around Egypt. When the smoke cleared, more than 40 churches had been damaged or destroyed. Most were in fiercely Islamist areas of southern or upper Egypt and a few in Cairo’s outskirts, too. Amid the chaos that night, some Muslims like Nagah Azab came to the aid of their Christian neighbors.
NAGAH AZAB, Egypt (through interpreter): Christians are more than brothers to me. We live together and it is good for us both. I want you to know that we are the ones who protect Christians, as we did when the young men came and attacked the church on orders of the Muslim Brotherhood.
MARGARET WARNER: Yet, even now, Awad says she lives in fear.
FIFI AWAD (through interpreter): We are so afraid for our families and children. We are afraid as Christians to wear the cross.
MARGARET WARNER: Coptic Christians have worn that cross in Egypt for centuries. Tradition has it the faith was brought here by the Apostle Mark. Egypt was majority Christian until the 10th century, when Islam spread.
Even today, with an estimated 10 percent of this country’s 85 million people, Egyptian Copts are a significant number. But they don’t always live comfortably, says Georgetown University’s John Esposito.
JOHN ESPOSITO, Georgetown University: This is an ancient church. It’s the largest — most people would say it’s the largest Christian community in the Middle East. But, in the modern period, Copts have continued to experience forms of discrimination, hate crimes, attacks on Copts, and attacks on churches.
MARGARET WARNER: In that period since the 1950s, under a series of strongmen Egyptian rulers, Christian Copts were free to practice their faith, but were second-class citizens in other ways.
And during outbursts of Islamist terrorism here, like the 1990s, Christians were targeted. But since the 2011 revolution that deposed Hosni Mubarak, especially after Morsi came to power in 2012, Christians came under pressure as never before, says Mona Makram Ebeid, a Copt, former professor and one-time parliamentarian.

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