Persecution in Egypt
“They forced our father to get out first. The terrorist shouted he had to convert to Islam. But my father said ‘No.’ Then they shot him.”
These are the words of a twelve-year-old boy. In May 2017, Mina (12) and his brother Marco (16) were being driven in their dad’s pick-up, with a few of his colleagues, to the monastery in Minya where he worked. As they approached the monastery, they saw a bus full of Christian visitors being attacked by a group of armed terrorists. The men who didn’t want to confess Islam as their religion were shot dead. As the pick-up truck neared the monastery, the same thing happened. First, they had to stop. Then, one by one, the men in the truck were forced out and given the same choice. All chose Jesus above their human life. Then the terrorists discovered the two boys. One of them shot at the boys but missed. Another said: ‘No, let them live to tell the story.’ Amazingly, the boys tried to fetch help, with Marco driving for the first time in his life. But it was to no avail. When they returned, their father died in their arms.
Egypt has the largest surviving Christian population in the region but the majority of the population is Muslim. In recent years, radical political Islam has become more visible and the society has suffered the implications of the presence of radical Islamic groups. In 2017, more than 100 Christian families fled attacks in North Sinai, 49 people died in church bombings in Cairo and Alexandria on Palm Sunday, and 29 Christians on a family trip were shot dead on Ascension Day – in the same attack that took the life of Marco and Mina’s father. In August, 73 churches and monasteries, plus 22 other church buildings were either partially or totally burnt down or damaged and 212 private properties belonging to Coptic Christians were attacked, looted or set on fire.
In terms of government, it seems that competing visions of the Egyptian state have been vying for dominance in the country. One vision (advanced by the army and political establishment) puts more emphasis on nationalism as opposed to religion, while on the other hand Islamists (including the Muslim Brotherhood) want to make religion the foundation and central element of Egyptian identity. Both visions have offered Egyptian Christians little by way of rights and security and as the competition between these two camps unfolds, Egyptian Christians are often caught in the political crossfire. The high level of illiteracy, economic stagnation and demographic pressure also means that - regardless of the political dispensation in the country - Egyptian society continues to be susceptible to the influence of the most radical and intolerant versions of Islam that are particularly appealing to the youth and the poor.
Believers from a Muslim background, as in many countries, bear the brunt of persecution, often from their families who may punish them for abandoning the Islamic faith with beatings or expulsions from the home. However, the Coptic church, which in the past has been tolerated because of its size and historical presence, is now being targeted, too. Christians also face discrimination in education, health and legislation which hinders essential aspects of church life.