Islamization of Egypt Could Spark Coptic Awakening

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CAIRO -- Thousands of Christians are fleeing Egypt as the Muslim Brotherhood gains influence in that country.

But as this wave of unprecedented emigration grows, the Egyptian Church may be on the verge of an awakening.

Coptic Exodus

Pro-Muslim Brotherhood forces recently tore down a stage built by those opposing President Mohammed Morsi.

It's just one example of how Egypt is becoming more polarized as Islamists try to impose their beliefs on the society.

"You have here an emboldened local Islamists - emboldened by the idea that one of their brethren is in power to basically implement what they see as the rightful law, or God's message on the ground without even the need of a government," Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at the Hudson Institute, explained.

The creeping Islamization has Egypt's minority Coptic Christian community nervous. Many have already left the country and more are expected to follow.

"It's an exodus of biblical proportions just over the last 12 months," Lord David Alton, co-founder of the human rights group Jubilee Campaign, told CBN News.

"There've been a lot of killings," he said. "Churches have been bombed. Christian women have been raped. People's properties have been confiscated - all sorts of things have taken place. It's one of the reasons why a hundred thousand Coptic Christians have fled the country."

"We don't actually know the exact numbers," Tadros told CBN News. "In my local church here in Fairfax...we've definitely seen a serious wave of Coptic immigration from Egypt...since the revolution and that's in one church in the U.S."

Armenian Pastor Robert Zareh Tashijan said some of his Cairo church members fled for the United States but that it's not just Christians who are leaving.

"I have a lot of Islam friends. They leave the country and go…they don't feel safe with the coming, the Muslim Brotherhood," Pastor Tashjan said.

Many Egyptians remain because they cannot afford to go anywhere else. Tadros is concerned about a Christian brain and wealth drain.

"In the sense of the better educated, the more well off, the people that are the job creators, the ones that give the higher donations to the church as an institution - those guys will be the ones that will be leaving," Tadros said.

That may mean less opportunity and help for needy Egyptian Christians.

Obama's 'Empty Words'

So, what can be done to halt the exodus? In the final presidential debate, President Obama said America expects the Egyptian government to protect the rights of non-Muslims.

"They have to make sure that they take responsibility for protecting religious minorities," the president said. "And we have put significant pressure on them to make sure they're doing that."

But Coptic leaders in the United States called Obama's support for Egyptian Christians "empty words."

Lord Alton said American and Western aid to Egypt should be stopped unless the government upholds religious liberties.

"We need to be insisting that this becomes a key question for Western governments. So far, the evidence is not very encouraging," Alton said.

Still, many Christians, like those attending services at Cairo's Cave Church, say they'll stay in Egypt. Father Simon Ibrahim said his church members are focused on God's promises.

"He cares for us and will not forsake us," Father Ibrahim said. "We believe in God's plan for Egypt and will follow it instead of any human plan."

Copts' Faith Strengthened

Meanwhile, the rise of the Islamists and increased persecution is actually bringing Egyptian Christians closer together.

"It's more unity than before," Pastor Tashijan told CBN News. "All the churches - they are doing a lot of prayer nights, meetings, talking about the future, giving hope for the people that God is in control."

One event in the desert north of Cairo attracted more than 50,000 Egyptian Christians for four days of worship and prayer.

American Christians are very concerned about their brothers and sisters in Christ in Egypt. What should they do?"

"We definitely need your prayers," Father Simon said. "The Lord tells us to pray for one another. You pray for us, and we will pray for you!"

Despite the mass exodus, many Coptic Christians believe the Egyptian Church is growing stronger and will persevere, no matter what the future may bring."

"You can look at Coptic history with a sense of  sadness of continuous decline," Tadros said. "But you can also look at it with the sense of how the hand of God has protected his people and made them survive through everything that they have been through."

*Originally published November 2, 2012.

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