Saturday, May 11, 2013

Arab Christians in the aftermath of the Arab Spring – A current-events roundup from Egypt & Libya

Over the course of the past century, the Christian minorities in the Islamic Middle East—by which I mean, for present purposes, Turkey and the Arab world—either have disappeared or have been dwindling away.  (By the way, starting back in the 19th century that has also true for many, though not all, of the Muslim communities in the European portions of the former Ottoman Empire.)  The Jewish communities in the Arab world are long gone, of course, having disappeared almost completely between the late 1940s and the 1970s.  In the few Arab countries where there are still significant Christian minorities, especially Egypt and Syria and the Arab part of Iraq, this process is still going on.  (Lebanon is an idiosyncratic special case, which would require a more complicated discussion.)  The threats and pressures are somewhat different in Egypt, Syria, and Arab Iraq—and Egyptian Copts, in particular, are almost certainly not facing the kind of cataclysmic disaster that has engulfed Iraq's Christians and will most likely hit Syria's Christians as one outcome of the present civil war.  But the prospects for the remaining Christian minorities are not very encouraging in any of those places.

Here is an illustrative roundup of some recent events in Egypt and Libya, posted a toward the end of March on Joshua Landis's Syria Comment blog.  Other examples would be easy to multiply.  It's too early to predict for sure what lies ahead, but there are reasons to be worried.

Hoping for the best (but not optimistic),
Jeff Weintraub

Syria Comment
Posted by Matthew Barber on Wednesday, March 20, 2013
Life for Arab Christians Post-Arab Spring

Egyptian Christians say they were tortured in Libya

Dozens of Coptic Christians were tortured inside a detention center run by a powerful militia in eastern Libya, two of the recently released detainees told The Associated Press on Friday amid a wave of assaults targeting Christians in Benghazi and the latest instance of alleged abuse by Libyan security forces. … “They first checked our wrists searching for the crosses and if they found them, we (had to) get into their cars,” said 26-year-old Amgad Zaki… Zaki said a group of men – some in uniform and some in civilian clothes – rounded up Egyptians selling clothes in a market called el-Jareed in Benghazi on February 26. He and other Christians climbed into SUVs that he said carried the sign of Libya Shield One, one of the most powerful militias in Benghazi that is under the command of Islamist and ex-rebel Wassam Bin Hemad.
“They shaved our heads. They threatened to sever our heads in implementation of Islamic Shariah (law) while showing us swords,” said Zaki, who was interviewed on the telephone from his home after returning to Egypt earlier this month. “They dealt with us in a very brutal way, including forcing us to insult our Pope Shenouda,” Zaki said, referring to the former Coptic pontiff who died last year.

He said that during four days of detention they were flogged, forced to take off their clothes in cold weather and stand at 3 a.m. outdoors on floor covered with stones. “I was taken to clean a bathroom, and the man pushed my head inside the toilet and sat on me,” he said. “I was dying every day, and at one point I thought death is better than this.”

Militias have been targeting Christians, women, journalists, refugees and those considered former loyalists of Moammar Gadhafi, who was toppled and killed in Libya’s 2011 civil war. The state relies on the militias to serve as security forces since Libya’s police and military remain in shambles.
Libya Persecutes Copts, Closes Embassy in Egypt
The Maspero Youth Union (MYU) confirmed on Saturday that four Egyptian Copts were detained at a checkpoint on Friday in the Libyan city of Misrata. MYU claims that those detained are being held because they are Christians.

… The Libyan embassy in Cairo, meanwhile, has announced it is suspending all services indefinitely but has not provided a reason.
Islam or death? Egypt’s Christians targeted by new terror group
“It’s not the first time. This is happening every day,” said Adel Guindy,  president of Coptic Solidarity and a member of Egypt’s Coptic community who  travels between Paris and Cairo. “This one incident caught the attention of the  news agencies, but there are worse things happening to the Christians every day  in Egypt,” he said.

Christians have felt increasingly at risk since the fall of former President  Hosni Mubarak in 2011, which resulted in the rise of President Mohammed Morsi  and the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

“It has definitely worsened under the revolution. Once the worst part of the  society surfaced — the Islamists — the Copts are paying a heavy price. The  West doesn’t really feel our pain. It’s a war of attrition,” Guindy said.

… Extremists over the weekend set fire to a Christian Church in the Province of  Fayoum, the second such assault against the town’s Coptic population in a month.  The attackers ripped down the church’s cross and hurled rocks at church members,  injuring four people including the priest…
Family given prison sentence of 15 years for converting from Islam to Christianity
A mother and her seven children have been  jailed for 15 years for converting back to Christianity from Islam in  Egypt. Nadia Mohamed Ali was raised a Christian but  converted to Islam 23 years ago when she married Mohamed Abdel-Wahhab  Mustafa. Following his death, she planned to convert  back to her original faith, along with the rest of her family.

But a criminal court in Beni Suef, in central  Egypt, sentenced them to jail for 15 years last week, according to  reports. Seven other people, who were involved in the case, were also sentenced to five years in jail.
A scared Egyptian Christian friend writes [3/17]: “We know at least one Egyptian minister who got martyred there [Libya] this week. It’s coming to Egypt too. The Muslim Government here has released a new law that enables regular people (that mean Muslim Brotherhood) to form Militias, carry guns, apply law and arresting others on streets. Attached Photo is from an incident that happened in Egypt TODAY. We have been told that people caught two thieves and killed them that way. It’s chaos. A Failed State. Anyone can do anything.


Another incident also took place today here where they applied hand-cut on street on another place in Cairo. [A large demonstration] is happening RIGHT NOW, here in Mokatam (my neighborhood), 1 mile from my place, where the headquarter of the MB is. Demonstration is very big here now after some young men & women (and even journalists) have been beaten by MB guards. Police alongside with MB Militia are harshly firing tear gas in our area now and also using gun machine. Our office secretary could not make it to office this week due to some sort of civil disobedience on streets. We expect that streets will get to be totally dysfunctional soon.”

The next day (3/18) he wrote: “S. Medhat is 18 years old boy from the Presbyterian church that is located two blocks after where I live, has been taken yesterday along with hundreds protests who were on last night demonstration on my neighborhood, close to MB headquarter. This boy had nothing to do with the demonstration, as well as many others, I believe. He was just coming back home. His family knows nothing about him till now. It’s very common that people disappear in such hot locations and they never return back alive

American-imported tear gas bombs & gun shooting kept horribly running until 15 minutes to 6 am this morning. Our neighborhood entered the war zone. Children are terrified. We are expecting a climax of this here next Friday.“  Video of the vigilantism in this area

The next day (3/19) he wrote: “Last night a flame of a street war has begun in Shoubra, the 5 million populated district. hundreds of people with guns & swords started killing each other and destroying shops. Do not ask why this is happening. It happens everyday, but media are not allowed to cover the truth. I believe that the west is not really aware of the reality of the situation here, because the US & England want to carry on with supporting the MB regime. I’m so mad with this evil and can not understand why Obama is supporting this. It seems like a plan to destroy the whole area and make other Iraqs. This what already happened in Lybia, Syria and here so far. Personally, between Mokatam (my neighborhood that exploded 2 days ago) and Shoubra, I feel the box is getting squeezed more and more.”