Saturday, August 02, 2008

Coptic Christians in Egypt Face Problems

Michael Slackman reports for the NY Times (Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting from Cairo and Upper Egypt, and Nadim Audi from Cairo).:

Egypt is the most populous Arab country, with about 80 million people. About 10 percent are Coptic Christian.

For most of Egypt’s Coptics, the major flare-ups — the attack on the Abu Fana Monastery or riots in 2005 in Alexandria — are faraway episodes that serve only to confirm a growing alienation from larger society. For most, the tension is more personal, a fear that a son or daughter will fall in love with a Muslim or of being derided as “coftes,” which means “fifth column.”

“We keep to ourselves,” said Kamel Nadi, 24, a Coptic who runs a small shop in the Shubra neighborhood of Cairo. “Muslims can’t say it, but it’s clear they don’t accept us. Here no one can speak the truth on this issue, so everybody’s feelings are kept inside.”

But the violence at the ancient Abu Fana Monastery in May elevated events to a new level. In a follow-up report issued last month, the National Council for Human Rights described the atmosphere in Egypt as an “overcharged sectarian environment” and chided the state, saying it “turns a blind eye to such incidents” and was “only content to send security forces after clashes catch fire.”

Here's the Al-Ahram account of the report:

There were six other disputes between the Abu Fana monks and nearby Arab residents prior to the recent incident. The bishop of Shubra Al-Kheima, Anba Morcos, the Coptic Church media spokesman, repudiated the report, blaming the government for neglecting the Coptic community. Morcos refutes the NCHR report finding that the Abu Fana clash was centred on a dispute over land, saying, "if it was an ordinary dispute, then why didn't the Arabs resort to the courts? Why did they kidnap the monks? Why did they torture the monks to force them to renounce their religion? Of course, it is related to religion."

Morcos added: "Perpetrators must be arrested and punished," pointing out that all Copts are waiting to see how the government will act against the "criminals" concerned and how it will do justice to the "victims".

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