Blood on the Palms: Persecution In The Coptic DNA

By Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Another bloody attack on the Coptic Christian community. Another day of Coptic bloodshed to be marked in the Coptic calendar, which is already full of similarly tragic events. Worst of all, we know that Sunday’s attacks won’t be the last ones.

Copts have been suffering religious persecution for hundreds of years in their own homeland. They’ve been targeted by local pogroms, suffer from sectarian tensions, and experience discrimination in employment in both the public and private sectors. Recently, ISIS called them their “favorite prey.”

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has declared a state of emergency in response to yesterday’s church bombings on Palm Sunday. He refuses to describe the incidents as an attack on Christians, but rather refers to them as a targeting all Egyptians in general. Following the footsteps of the Mubarak regime, el-Sisi talks about “national unity” in Egypt, but so far his actions do not match his rhetoric. Coptic suffering remains the same—if not worse.

Declaring a state of emergency might sound like a serious step, but Egypt has been under emergency laws for decades now. The Coptic community has been attacked while these emergency laws were in effect. Just a few weeks ago, we saw the Islamic State attempt an ethnic cleansing of Copts in Arish, Sinai. The state of emergency has been effective in Sinai but it didn’t prevent ISIS from attacking the Copts there.

After each attack against Copts, I wonder where and how the next attack will take place. Most sectarian crimes are committed by Muslim mobs attacking Coptic churches, homes, or properties for a variety of absurd reasons. It is extremely rare for the perpetrators of these crimes to face any punishment whatsoever.

Persecution has become part of our DNA as Copts; it’s part of our Christian faith. They taught us in Sunday school that we have been chosen to “to carry a cross of persecution in Christ’s name.” They taught us that we are the church of martyrs and we shall desire the martyrdom for Christ’s name.

But the Coptic community is dying. Our numbers are going down. Those who are financially able to emigrate have either left or plan to leave once they get a chance. Egypt lost its ancient Jewish community by persecution, and now the Copts—the indigenous population whose roots can be traced to Egypt’s earliest days—are following the following the steps of the Egyptian Jews.

Egypt has a serious sectarian problem. El-Sisi’s regime and the Egyptian media can try to deny it as much as they want, but every Copt who is or has lived in Egypt has experienced these sectarian tensions. I understand that the Egyptian government might be incapable of stopping ISIS attacks, (the attacks on the Egyptian military checkpoints are proof of that), but the Egyptian government can solve some of the Copts’ problems.

While changing the sectarian culture in Egypt may take a long time, in the short term, El-Sisi can change some of the discriminatory laws and enforce an equal rule of all. Copts are not separatists and they are not asking for something impossible. Copts simply want religious liberty and fair rule of law. They want to be equal citizens and feel safe. When sectarian attacks are successful against them, Copts want to see justice prevail.

Every time the Egyptian government doesn’t enforce the rule of law, it directly encourages and emphasizes on the Islamic State’s idea that Copts are “easy prey”. Copts want to be able to build churches and pray in peace.

The Trump administration can use its good relationship with the Egyptian government to influence el-Sisi to at least start considering solving some of the Copts’ problems. There is an opportunity now, and I pray that the US can use it to save the Coptic community and save Egypt.