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October 10, 2011 7:12 pm

Killing Christians In Cairo

avatar by Maxine Dovere

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A Coptic church.

Many Christians believe that, upon learning that King Herod intended to massacre Jewish infants, the parents of the infant Jesus, Joseph and Mary, fled to Egypt, later returning to the Galilee. Throughout Egypt there are a number of churches claiming to memorialize places the family stayed. The church of Abu Serghis, said to be built on the family’s home is considered the most important.

Two thousand years later, Egypt’s Christian minority is estimated at 10%. – almost 9 million citizens. Yet, the hospitality of two thousand years is not always available. In 2011, in the midst of what has been termed the Arab Spring, mobs protesting the reign of Hosni Mubarak used the opportunity to target Christians. Eleven Coptic Christians, members of two families, were murdered by Muslims. Coptic activist Dr. Hanna Hanna said “I believe it is because they know that with Copts they can literally get away with murder.”

Forward to October, 2011. Now in Cairo, anti Christian attacks continue. Violent rioting has left 26 dead, most thought to be Christians. They were murdered while staging a “peaceful protest” over an earlier attack on a church.

According to Reuters, Egypt’s Coptic Church blasted authorities Monday for allowing repeated attacks on Christians with impunity. A CBS’ “60 Minutes” report stated that the military “has been arresting activists by the thousands, outlawing strikes and clamping down on journalists.”

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Has anything changed? People opposing the current military regime are said to have been tortured, just as under the reign of Hosni Mubarak. Strikes are rampant; demands remain similar. Bosses remain the same – Mubarak appointees – retain control.

The military’s self imposed deadline for returning power to a civilian administration has now passed. Legislative elections are scheduled for late November, with presidential elections possible in late 2012. As appeared to be the case under Mubarak, excuses to attack were created. The much decried “emergency laws” remain in place. “They tell all of us that this is what happens without emergency laws.”

A statement put out by the Coptic Church said “Strangers got in the middle of our sons and committed mistakes to be blamed on our sons….Problems that occur repeatedly go unpunished.”

Sunday’s riots were not in a small town away from the coverage of the international media. These conflagrations raged throughout downtown Cairo and involved Christians, Muslims and security forces. According to sources in Cairo, a peaceful protest was staged by about 1,000 Christians who brought their statements directly to the media, staging a “sit-in” outside the state television building. They were attack by persons in a vehicle 26 died, mostly Christians. Nearly 500 were injured; dozens arrested.

Pope Shenouda III, spiritual leader of the Coptic Christian minority, declared three days of mourning.  As the Algemeiner goes to press, additional skirmishes occurred near the Coptic Hospital. Men carried crosses, women cried.

From Washington, President Obama expressed “deep concern.” In a White House statement, he said “As the Egyptian people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities — including Copts — must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom. These tragic events should not stand in the way of timely elections and a continued transition to democracy that is peaceful, just and inclusive.”

Anti-Christian attacks have not been uncommon since Mubarak’s ouster. Punishment has been rare. Coptic Christian fear possible attacks from ultraconservative Islamists, known as Salafis and other Islamist fundamentalists, held in check under Mubarak. Despite acquiescence to demands that a cross and bells be removed from a church under construction in Aswan, Copts are still being attacked.

One glimmer of hope occurred in Cairo on Monday when thousands, Muslim and Christians marched together, calling for religious unity and the removal Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Military Council. This is not my country anymore,” Alfred Younan, a Copt. told an international news reporter.

“This is a huge crisis that could end in a civil clash. It could end in dire consequences,” said presidential hopeful Amr Moussa. “An immediate investigation committee must be formed, with immediate results.”

“Egypt faces a power vacuum. No one maintains the power with the authority and credibility to calm the situation down,” said a senior Western diplomat.” Fear of a clash with the military is active. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, used the state television to warn that “attempts to build a modern, democratic state were being disrupted by security concerns and talk of plots against democracy.”

On Monday, mourners packed the Abbasiya Cathedral, where Coptic Pope Shenouda prayed over candle-lit coffins of the dead. Many wept and chanted slogans calling for Tantawi to step down.

Religious intolerance is not, of course limited to anti Christian activity. In Libya, David Gerbi an Italian citizen born in Libya, faced deportation when he attempted to reopen a synagogue sealed by Ghadafi in 1967.On the eve of Yom Kippur, protesters carrying signs reading, “There is no place for the Jews in Libya,” and “We don’t have a place for Zionism” marched in front of the ancient structure.

Gerbi said he was physically saved only by the presence of National Security Adviser Abdel Karim Bazama, rebel leader Mustafa Saghezli, Interior Minister Ahmed Dharat and Justice Minister Muhammad Allaghi were among the government officials at a nearby hotel, preventing the mob like crowd from pulling him out of the building.

What sparked the demonstrations was Dr. Gerbi’s attempt to clean and pray in Tripoli’s abandoned Dar Bishi Synagogue. The Italian psychoanalyst became a member of the National Transitional Council (NTC) several months ago, at the invitation of its leadership. Gerbi is philosophic and forgiving. “This incident,” he said “has served to expose the dangerous reality simmering beneath the surface…I want to contribute to, not obstruct, the building of a new democratic and pluralistic Libya….What happened reveals the extent of Gaddafi’s anti-Semitic conditioning of an entire generation, those in their forties and fifties. Forty-two years of lies, of hate propaganda falsely accusing Jews of having been paid off to abandon the country in 1967, of having robbed Palestinians of their homes and of planning to colonize Libya.”

“Fortunately, the older generation still recalls warm friendships with former Jewish neighbors,” Gerbi said, “and I will continue to work to restore a 2,300-year-old coexistence and advocate active roles in the NTC for Libyan Jews, for the amazing Libyan population, for women and all ethnic and religious minorities.”

Gerbi returned to Italy Sunday “in order to ease the tension.” He had been cited for “breaking into an archaeological site without permission.” The doctor has requested that NTC President Mustafa Jalil appoint him a member of the new government and the country’s representative for Libyan Jewry.


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