Egypt's Christians: A Dying Population?

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Egyptian Coptics belong to one of the oldest Christian communities in the world. The Apostle Mark established a church in the city of Alexandria just 10 years after Christ's ascension.

But today, many Egyptian Christians are considering leaving the country because they fear radical Islamists have hijacked the nation's democratic revolution.

The recent fall of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak brought hope and opportunity to people long oppressed by an unpopular dictator and his subordinates.

Coptics joined Muslims in the Tahrir Square protests, but so far the freedoms they desired remain elusive and the minority Christian community is under siege.

Paul Marshall, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, says the actual number of attacks on Copts have increased since Mubarak stepped down.

"That has a lot of Copts worried [and asking], 'Is this a harbinger of the future?'" Marshall explained.

Tragic Violence

So far, 2011 has been a tragic year for Egypt's Christians. On New Year's Day a horrific suicide bombing took place at St. Mark's Church in Alexandria.

Security guard Magdy Wahib was at the church entrance when services concluded shortly after midnight.

"I suddenly found myself blown inside the church," Wahib recalled. "I didn't lose consciousness, but I felt severe pain in my abdomen, hand, and sides."

Wahib was taken to a hospital where surgeons removed a piece of shrapnel nearly seven inches long from his abdomen along with 30 inches of his intestines.

Wahib was among nearly 100 Christians injured in the attack. Twenty-three others were killed.

Christians at St. Mark's and other churches are determined to fight for a new future in Egypt. They know the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church and will persevere.

Fighting the Majority

Coptics say they are not treated as equals even though they were the majority in Egypt for more than 1,000 years. Today, Christians make up only about 13 percent of the population while 86 percent of Egyptians are Muslim.

Christians rarely receive government permission to build new churches. Members of a church in Giza, a city near Cairo, told CBN News they obtained a building permit after a lengthy 10 year battle.

In November 2010, security police laid siege to their partially constructed building. Two Christians were killed and 20 others were blinded in the attack.

Taxi driver Naseer Fakhry Bakheet is now unemployed because he lost sight in his left eye after being hit by a rubber bullet.

"The policemen inside the church were insulting us and beating us as if we were criminals," he said. "They shouted 'allahu akbar' and such slogans, as if we Christians are not people. As if we are not human-only like animals without any rights. As if we are not Egyptians."

Police and militant Muslims aren't the only ones attacking Coptics. A new wave of assaults are coming from the Egyptian army.

A home video provided to CBN News shows a military attack against a monastery near Alexandria in January.

After local police abandoned their station, the monks at St. Bishoy's built a wall at the monastery entrance to protect themselves from intruders. The army responded by sending 100 soldiers with tanks and light artillery to destroy the wall.

Three people were injured, including a monk whose spleen had to be removed because of the attack.

"The army is supposed to protect us, not beat and torture us," said Father Halmanout, a priest at the monastery. "We are innocent. We pray and try to help the people, that's all we are doing."

No Room for Democracy?

Christians say the incident is just another example of why they need protection from a new government. But the Muslim Brotherhood -- the strongest political group in Egypt right now -- insists that Islamic Sharia law remain the basis of Egyptian society.

The group also opposes democratic changes in the constitution that would grant equal rights and allow Christians and Muslim women to become president.

Human rights advocate Monir Bishara spends most of his spare time on Facebook sharing democratic ideas with young people. He says many Egyptians are religious, but will not support a theocratic government similar to the one in Iran.

"The Muslim Brotherhood are speaking about democracy, but inside themselves... if they take the power, it will be the last democratic [election] and [the government] will be dictatorial again," Bishara explained.

Marshall feels the United Nations and the U.S. State Department are naive and overly optimistic about the Muslim Brotherhood.

"They're saying, 'Well, the younger generation in the Brotherhood may be much more open,'" he said. "I think that's true, but the 23-year-olds aren't running the Brotherhood."

Egypt's Future

Marshall added that the Hamas experience in Gaza is a glimpse of Egypt's future under the Muslim Brotherhood.

"Hamas is the Muslim Brotherhood of the Palestinians. They won an election. And there's been no election since, and they killed off the Palestinian Authority opponents," he said.

That's why many Coptics may leave Egypt. They fear what may come.

Still, many like Father Halmanout will stay no matter what happens.

"We are trusting in God and we are not afraid," Halmanout said. "Jesus told us that people against us use the hand of human beings, but we have the hand of God. The One who is covering us will save us."

*Originally aired on April 27, 2011.

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Gary Lane

Gary Lane

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