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Monday, June 27, 2011

Christians at Risk: A Jew's Concern

I read with dismay the reports of repeated assaults on Copts in Egypt.
Here's a Wall Street Journal account (June 11):

Five weeks after the fall of the Egyptian regime, Ayman Anwar Mitri's [a member of the Christian Coptic minority] apartment was torched. When he showed up to investigate, he was bundled inside by bearded Islamists...[who] accused him of having rented the apartment - by then unoccupied - to loose Muslim women...They beat him with the charred remains of his furniture. Then, one of them produced a box cutter and...amputated Mr. Mitri's right ear.

"When they were beating me, they kept saying: 'We won't leave any Christians in this country,'" Mr. Mitri recalled in a recent interview.

Earlier reports this year spoke of a destroyed church in Soul, 20 miles from Cairo, and the mass evacuation of Christians from the village, as well as the New Year's Day bombing of an Alexandria church, leaving 25 Christians dead and scores wounded. And that's only for starters.

Discrimination, distrust, and paranoia feed the troubling climate. Rumors spread like wildfire. A Christian has allegedly abducted a Muslim and tattooed her with a cross. A Muslim disappears and Christians are accused of violence. An intermarriage triggers fear that Christians are trying to subvert the majority population.

Egypt, of course, has been heavily in the political news in recent months. Unrest in the streets led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak. The spirit of Tahrir Square captured the imagination of many. Talk of a new dawn in Egypt has been widespread.

But if a page is to be turned in the Arab world's most populous country, it cannot come at the expense of a vulnerable minority. Copts have lived in Egypt for nearly 2,000 years and represent the largest Christian minority in the Middle East, comprising ten percent of Egypt's 83 million inhabitants.

While some Egyptians, to their credit, have spoken bravely of national unity between Muslims and Copts, they have not been able to stop the deadly assaults or lessen the widespread fear.

As a Jew, I identify with the Copts' situation.

Perhaps it's because we can write a doctoral thesis on the topic of minority status. We know all too well what it means to live in a country where legal protections are left to the whim of the authorities, not embedded in a country's DNA or democratic architecture.

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