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Letters from Tokyo
EGYPT — Coptic Christians Are Still Marginalized
By Lee Jay Walker
Tokyo Correspondent
300 Copts demonstrate in Egypt.

Egypt is viewed to be a moderate nation, however, if you scratch under the surface and study the laws of this land, and how Coptic Christians are treated, then your opinion may change? So when will the Christians of Egypt be given genuine equality? Also, are Coptic Christians best served by the estranged democracy of President Hosni Mubarak or open democracy which may unleash Islamic forces? This issue is very complex because if we look at the crisis in Iraq, then change can sometimes usher in an even more dangerous period. So what are the best options available to the minority Christian community?

Before focusing on this it must be stated that the Coptic Christians of Egypt resided in this land a long time before the Arabs invaded their nation and colonized Egypt in the distant past. Also, despite massive past historical persecution, colonialization, jizya tax, massive inequality, pogroms, massacres, and dhimmitude; many still remained loyal to their Christian faith because of the strength of the Coptic Christian church which was extremely tenacious. Of course many Muslim leaders were very moderate and many Christians were protected providing they paid jizya tax. Therefore, the plight of Christianity often relied on the respective Muslim leader and the moderation of leading Islamic clerics.

However, it only took one major spark or crisis of confidence within the Muslim community to cause havoc. Therefore, Coptics understood that being passive was their only option when we focus on past history and the same applied to accepting dhimmitude for many centuries. More recently, Coptic Christians have been divided because many in the diaspora are outspoken but many Christians in Egypt feel that "a quiet approach" is best.

Again if we look at past history it doesn`t look good. After all, when Camp David was signed between America, Israel, and Egypt, all three nations were happy; however, the same Anwar Sadat persecuted the Christian community via anti-Christian laws. Therefore, just like the Christian community in Iraq which doesn`t count and which isn`t protected, it is clear that Western nations have different interests. This fact alone should worry the Coptic Christian community because America supported the introduction of Sharia Islamic Law in Sudan in 1983, and they of course did the same in Iraq and Afghanistan.

However, in more recent times many parts of Africa are in transition because in the early 19th century Islam dominated over Christianity in this part of Africa, apart from Ethiopia and Eritrea (new nation state) where the Christian and Muslin population was well established. However, by the middle of the twentieth century times had changed because Christianity grew rapidly in parts of Chad, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda. Therefore, the religious map of this part of Africa and the surrounding region was radically altered. Also, by the end of the twentieth century Christianity was around 13% to 17% in Sudan and the mainly Christian elite of the south fought back against radical Islam.


Therefore, the embattled Coptic Christians of Egypt are no longer isolated within the dynamics of the surrounding geography of Africa and churches are now being planted in parts of northern Sudan. Given this, it is hoped that greater Christian unity will lead to more pressure on Islamic states which discriminate against Christians in this part of Africa. So now it may be time for the Coptics to reach out and strengthen their cause in Egypt and Eastern Africa?

Unlike Africa, the future of the Christian community in the Middle East looks rather bleak because they face dhimmitude, terrorism, persecution, inequality via the legal system, a demographic time bomb, marginalization, and so much more. Also, history tells us that they do not count in the eyes of major Western powers and of course most Western governments are pro-Saudi Arabia, despite this nation not allowing one single Christian church. Given this, the Christians of the Middle East must unite and they must gain strength from their longevity in order to stop this onslaught.

Turning back to Egypt, then it is clear that organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood desire to create an Islamic state and the central government often panders to the Muslim majority. Therefore, Coptic Christians suffer dhimmitude via radical Islam and suffer discrimination at the hands of the Egyptian government. Given this, Christians are in a no-win situation and while many want "true democracy" others do not because they fear that radical Islam may come to power in the long run. Given this, the Christians of Egypt are in a major dilemma. Do they fight back against the central government which discriminates against them? Or do they remain quiet because of the fear of radical Islam? In truth, whatever they do could backfire and this is the problem.

Before concluding, it is important to state that many Christians and Muslims have great relations in Egypt. Also, in the past some local Muslims have also tried to protect Christians from radical Islamists. So persecution in Egypt is much more moderate rather than the direct persecution which happens in nations like Saudi Arabia. Also, some Muslim writers have been outspoken and they have supported the Christian community during times of persecution. Yet despite this, negative aspects of Egypt must not be ignored and many Christians have suffered within Egypt because of discrimination via the state system or they have suffered at the hands of radical Islamists.

Therefore, recent flashpoints will continue and Coptics will suffer more religious persecution, educational inequality, inequality in law, discrimination in the workplace, discrimination in national government, and they will be limited by land laws which will hinder them from building new churches or monasteries. So, overall, their situation looks negative but the changing religious map could be a future lifeline? For now, however, the Christian community must remain firm and strong, and to unite against their enemies within Egyptian society. Yet if any community can survive against all the odds, then this certainly applies to the Coptic Christians of Egypt who have remained strong in faith despite many negatives being stacked against them.

Lee Jay Walker Dip BA MA
http://journals.aol.com/leejaywalker/uk/



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Lee Jay Walker serves as Tokyo Corrsepondent of The Seoul Times. He specializes in int'l relations and geopolitics. He is also involved in analyst work and research on business. After finishing BA degree in East European Studies at the University of London, He earned MA degree in Asia Pacific Studies in Nottingham Trent University. He also studied business at London Institute.

 

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