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ICC Note: The brutal murder of 21 Christians in Libya by ISIS was not something new for the Egyptian church. For nearly 2,000 years the church faced opposition. But persecution is not only the brutal murders, but there are many other forms that persecution takes in a cultural that remains hostile to the people of the cross.

03/18/2015 Egypt (TBFF) The murder of 21 Christians by ISIS in Libya brought condemnation from around the world. Their murder puts them in a long history of persecution of the Coptic church, writes Samuel Tadros.

Martyrdom was not new to them or their people. For nearly two thousand years, their Church had prided itself as being the Church of the Martyrs. If martyrdom was a central feature of the early church, it had become the hallmark of its identity in Egypt. Even as early as the third century a quote attributed to Tertullian declared: “If the martyrs of the whole world were put on one arm of the balance and the martyrs of Egypt on the other, the balance would tilt in favor of the Egyptians”. From the blood of Saint Mark the Evangelist shed in Alexandria in 68 AD the river continued to flow, each century adding its martyrs. The names of the persecutors had changed; Romans and Byzantines and Arabs, Emperors and Caliphs and Kings. Each had contributed his share, each had attempted to end their faith, and each in turn had failed.

The horrific murder of twenty Copts and a Ghanaian Christian at the hands of ISIS in Libya in February 2015 was followed by swift condemnations from around the world. Most world leaders described the victims the way they identified themselves, as Coptic Christians. Pope Francis recognised that they had been “killed simply for the fact that they were Christians”, and that “their blood confesses Christ”. Their murderers certainly concurred. ISIS had searched the workers’ compound looking for Copts. “People of the cross” they named them in the video. Their beheading was in revenge for Kamilia Shehata; a wife of a Coptic priest, who had briefly disappeared in July 2010 before returning to her family. Soon her cause became a rallying cry for Egyptian Salafis convinced that she had been prevented from converting to Islam and held against her will by the church. Demonstrations by Salafis soon gave way to action by jihadis. Iraqi Christians were the first victims, with the horrific attack later that year on the Our Lady of Salvation Church in Baghdad leaving 58 dead. Even then, the predecessors of ISIS had championed Kamilia’s cause. The Two Saints Church bombing in Alexandria that left twenty three Copts dead on New Year’s Eve was probably related.

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