Egypt Christians Fearful Despite New President's Pledge

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WASHINGTON - Egypt's new President Mohammed Morsi, a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has pledged to protect the Christian minority, but many remain fearful.

Meanwhile, religious freedom advocates are pressing Morsi to endorse legislation that would guarantee the God-given rights of Egypt's Christians.

Immediately before and after his presidential innauguration, Morsi took steps to to ease the fears of the country's Christians. He called them, "Our Christian brothers...national partners with full rights like Muslims."

After a meeting with the new Egyptian president, one Coptic bishop said Morsi had "eased our minds."

At the same time though in Washington, D.C., a group of religious freedom activists met at a Coptic Solidarity Conference and expressed concern over the mass exodus of Christians from Egypt.

Ann Buwalda, executive director of Jubilee Campaign USA, said Coptic Christians are fleeing Egypt in droves.

"My office has been receiving phone calls from panicked Coptic Christians in Cairo pleading for help to flee the country," Buwalda said.

Open Doors Chief Executive Carl Moeller said the Islamists' greatest threat is not murder or the destruction of church buildings.

"They're not going to blow up a church, they're going to pressure Christians to leave the country," Moeller said. "It is the constant pressure, it is the constant discrimination, isolation, and social harassment that the Church faces, producing the flood of immigration."

Ten percent of Egyptians are Coptic Christians. Tens of thousands have left since the revolution began in January 2011.

The number of those requesting asylum in the United Kingdom has tripled since then. Asylum applications have doubled in the United States.

Observers remain skeptical about Morsi's pledge to treat Christians as equal citizens in the Muslim-dominated society.

"Can the promises of politicians make a real difference for Egypt? I don't think so," Moeller said

So what can Christians do to protect themselves? One conference attendee suggested they join other Middle East Christians to establish their own country like the Jews did with Israel.

"Because right now we've been living with the Muslims for 1,400 years and nothing has changed," the attendee said. "The persecution is still there, we can't get along and it's never going to change."

CBN News Reporter Gary Lane moderated one of the panel discussions. He described what he had learned during recent visits to Egypt.

"When I've talked to Coptic Christians they have told me, they say, 'Why should we leave Egypt? We were here before the Muslim invaders. This is our home, this was our home 5,600 years before they came and why should you go into a separate state when it is your state to begin with?'" Lane said. "That's just what I have heard form others."

"The solution isn't that we need our own separate area," Tina Ramirez, with the Beckett Fund, said. "The solution is that you are a part of all of Egypt, you're a part of all of Iraq; you're a part of all of these-Assyria and everywhere else."

"So why not be recognized as legitimate communities within those countries?" she said.

Ramirez said Egyptians need a bill of rights and most, except the Salafists and Muslim Brotherhood, support the idea.

"The Egyptian people are suffering and the Middle East (are) suffering because they won't acknowledge a bill of rights," she said.

"We have to remind the societies that Muslims aren't safe either," she continued. "The only people who are safe in this pyramid of rights is people at the top who determine what rights people get."

Ramirez said it's important that Christians around the world stand with Egyptian Christians in the days ahead.

"No matter how dire it seems, for somebody who is being persecuted, just standing with them through it and doing whatever you can to seek their justice. That's what we're called to do," she said. "Regardless of the outcome."

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