Egypt's war on Christians


Before, the government simply ignored anti-Coptic violence. Now, the Army has joined in.

Now we know. Back in January, I wrote that the Egyptian revolution then underway was an "unknown unknown," to use the taxonomy of Donald Rumsfeld. We did not know that we did not know that the Egyptian regime was about to be overthrown. No shame in that – neither did Hosni Mubarak.

To employ Rumsfeld again, there was also a "known unknown." We knew that we did not know what Egypt's revolution and the wider Arab Spring would bring. Would there be a shift toward fundamental liberties and greater pluralism? Or would violent jihadism expand with the support of the state?

Now we know. There have been worrying signs all spring and summer that Islamist elements were growing stronger in the post-Mubarak Egypt. Christians in Egypt, for whom 2011 began with a massacre of parishioners leaving a church service, have watched in fear as attacks have increased. Four churches have been subject to arson in recent months. But Sunday's massacre took place not in the face of state neglect, but with the apparent support of the military.

The scenes from Sunday night in Cairo confirmed the worst fears of Christians in Egypt: An armoured personnel carrier, careening through a crowd of protesters, apparently firing in all directions. Some 25 were killed, 17 of them Coptic Christians participating in a protest against, amongst other things, government inaction in the race of anti-Christian violence.

Government action may indeed be even worse.

It's not just a Christian concern. All those concerned about religious liberty are alarmed. The Canadian federal government, which has made religious liberty a higher priority in its foreign policy, will establish an office of religious freedom to advance that end. The new office will be all the busier given what regime change is bringing to the broader Middle East.

Last month's religious freedom update from the U.S. State Department detailed the sorry state of affairs in Afghanistan. The report confirmed that there are no Christian churches and no Christian schools left in Afghanistan. There are not many Christians in Afghanistan, but what few remain have not a single house of worship.

In Iraq, the situation is not quite as dire as that, but Iraq once had a large and thriving Christian population. It has been hemorrhaging steadily over the years, and in recent years has been subject to targeted kidnappings, extortion, killings and bombings, including the murder of an archbishop.

These are countries where foreign troops are providing stability and security, and the international community has midwifed new constitutions in which religious liberty is at least nominally guaranteed. What will happen in Egypt, and perhaps Syria, where revolutions bring to power Islamist factions unchecked by any foreign influence, military or otherwise? Is Sunday's bloodshed in Cairo a sign of a religious war that is to come?

A new age of martyrdom is set to rise in Egypt.

The outcome of such a war is known even now. Egypt's Christians are a significant minority of some eight to 10 million, numerous but not powerful. Should the full force of Islamist violence be turned on them, the streets would run with blood. If the military were to abet the attacks, the number of corpses would be more horrific still. A new age of martyrdom is set to rise in Egypt.

The implications for all Egyptians are dire, including the Muslim majority. As Canada's Foreign Minister John Baird has made clear in arguing for the new office of religious freedom, all freedoms are related, and religious liberty in particular is a key indicator of all other freedoms. If a citizen is not free to profess his faith and follow his conscience, his freedom of speech and the press, and his legal freedoms, are fragile.

The massacre in Cairo fills the Christians of that land with deep foreboding. Christians have been in Egypt since the first Christian centuries. Let that be repeated: Christians have been in Egypt since before Islam even existed. The agitations of the violent jihadists to the effect that Christians are an alien element are historically false. Egypt's Christian minority is fully Egyptian. If they are not secure in Egypt, then Egypt itself is not secure. What is threatened today in Egypt is its very history and culture.

An Egypt without Christians would be the product of a cultural vandalism equivalent to an Egypt without the pyramids. The pyramids are the tombs of the past. The Christians of Egypt fear that their fellow citizens are preparing for them the tombs of the present.




Father Raymond J. de Souza, "Egypt's war on Christians." National Post, (Canada) October 13, 2011.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post and Fr. de Souza.


Father Raymond J. de Souza is chaplain to Newman House, the Roman Catholic mission at Queen's University, Kingston, Ontario. Father de Souza's web site is here. Father de Souza is on the advisory board of the Catholic Education Resource Center.

Copyright © 2011 National Post

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