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Religious intolerance in Egypt

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Overview:

About 94% of the population of Egypt are Muslim. The largest minority religious group are Coptic Christians - members of The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt.  The Copts "are persecuted by radical Islamic groups, by the abusive practices of local police and security forces, and by discriminatory and restrictive Egyptian Government policies. The result is that while Coptic Christians are generally able to practice their faith, increasingly they do so in a climate of fear." 1

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History of the Coptic Orthodox Church:

Copts believe that Saint Mark brought Christianity to Egypt during the reign of Nero in the 1st century CE. 2 "Eusebius states, in his Ecclesiastic History, that Saint Mark came to Egypt during the first or third year of the Roman Emperor Claudius (i.e. in 41-42 A.D. or 43-44 A.D.) and he visited Alexandria again, to preach and evangelize, between 61 and 68 A.D...By 190 A.D., the great Church of Alexandria was exchanging Paschal epistles with the Churches of Jerusalem and Antioch." 3 The original Pagan religion of Egypt faded from view, and was replaced by Christianity. The Islamic Conquest in 641 CE introduced Islam to Egypt. The two religions initially coexisted in Egypt in relative peace. 

In the 11th century, significant persecution started. "For example, there were restrictions on repairing old Churches and building new ones, on testifying in court, on public behavior, on adoption, on inheritance, on public religious activities, and on dress codes. Slowly but steadily, by the end of the 12th century, the face of Egypt changed from a predominantly Christian to a predominantly Muslem [sic] country and the Coptic community occupied an inferior position and lived in some expectation of Muslim hostility, which periodically flared into violence." 3

The position of the Copts began to improve early in the 19th century under the stability and tolerance of Muhammad Ali's dynasty.

In the 20th century, the Coptic Church has promoted ecumenicism: they were one of the founders of the World Council of Churches; they are also members of the All African Council of Churches (AACC) and the Middle East Council of Churches (MECC). 3

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Present situation:

"The Egyptian government discriminates against the Copts and hampers their freedom of worship: it enforces onerous restrictions on building or repairing churches; applies religiously discriminatory laws and practices concerning family law, conversion, and education; restricts Copts from senior government, military, and educational positions; and subsidizes media which are used to attack Copts.

The police at the local level frequently harass and sometimes even persecute Christians, particularly converts. In 1998, police detained up to 1200 Copts in the village of el-Kosheh. Many were tortured, beaten and subjected to electric shock. This is exacerbated by terrorist violence and the imposition of an extortionate jizya "tax" on thousands of Copts, primarily in Upper Egypt. According to the International Coptic Federation, the situation facing Copts in Egypt has worsened over the past three decades." 1

A Muslim who converts to Coptic Christianity may be forced to divorce his/her spouse. Although the government contributes financially to the construction of mosques and pays the salaries of Muslim clerics, no such aid is given to Copts. Rather, even the most trivial maintenance projects in churches or church-owned buildings require a building permit to be signed by the President. Many such applications have been delayed for decades. Copts are restricted from senior government, military, educational, and diplomatic positions.

A full report of the tragedy in Egypt can be found in the Egypt Report by the Center for Religious Freedom. They have a mail-in order form accessible from their web site at: http://freedomhouse.org/religion/ 

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References:

  1. "Flash News for April: Religious persecution statement at the United nations," Freedom House, 1999-APR-30, at: http://freedomhouse.org/religion/ 
  2. "The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt," at: http://cs-www.bu.edu/faculty/best/pub/cn/Home.html 
  3. Jackie Ascott, "Copts trough [sic] the ages," at: http://pharos.bu.edu/cn/articles/CoptsThroughTheAges.txt 
  4. Anon, "An introduction to the Coptic Orthodox Church," at: http://pharos.bu.edu/cn/articles/IntroToCopticChurch.txt 

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