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“The highest percentage of Christian murders in Egypt come from Minya”

Persecution of Christians in Egypt: we remain in prayer for our brothers and sisters of the Coptic Orthodox Christian Church in Egypt as they are persecuted for their faith in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Not only they, but our 300,000 Greek Orthodox brothers and sisters in Egypt suffer sporadic persecution, discrimination, and harassment, and as we see so often, frequently Egyptian officials do little or nothing to alleviate their plight.

For previous ChristianPersecution.com coverage of the persecution of Christians in Egypt, see here.

“Christian leaders in Egypt reflect on persecution of Coptic minority,” by Christopher White, Crux, November 27, 2019:

AL MINYA, Egypt – Two bishops, one Catholic, the other Orthodox, have remarkably different takes on how Christians are being treated in what is considered to be one of the hotbeds of Christian persecution in Egypt.

170 miles south of Cairo sits Minya, a Nile city known as the “jewel of Upper Egypt,” which includes the highest percentage of Christians in one place, roughly a third of its population of 6 million. The majority of the population is illiterate, which has also contributed to widespread unemployment, and Christian social service providers operate the bulk of the region’s schools and clinics.

For Bishop Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, leader of the region’s Catholics, he believes “the Catholic Church has no problems in Al-Minya.” By contrast, Bishop Anba Makarios, leader of the region’s Coptic Orthodox Church, says, “the highest percentage of Christian murders in Egypt come from Minya” and he believes the Egyptian state should look into the roots of such hostility, and not merely deal with it at a surface level.

“There is a difference with dealing with the symptoms and dealing with the root causes,” he insists.

Both bishops spoke last month to a group of Catholic journalists and educators, including Crux, sponsored by the Philos Project, an organization dedicated to “promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East.”

Throughout the city, 18-foot tall cutouts of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi dot the landscape with various Arabic inscriptions meant to shore up support for Sisi’s security efforts.

“We are all with you for Egypt,” reads one sign outside of a popular hotel for tourists.

Yet Sisi’s focus on improved security has not come without criticism, particularly his crackdown on journalists, mass arrests, and the charge by some Coptic Christians that he has used them as political pawns – claiming to offer them greater freedom of religion, while making them dependent on the state, and his rule, for their protection.

Minya is, in some respects, a microcosm for the tensions that exist throughout the country, as it continues to reinvent itself following the aftershocks of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution.

When Botros needs to interact with government officials regarding the region’s Catholic concerns, he says “I make clear it is my constitutional right.”

“It is very important that the government understands this is my right,” he says. “I don’t go humbly; I don’t go afraid.”

As a result, he says Catholic Copts are living “comfortably” and in a “state of friendship” with their Muslim neighbors.

Yet if the Catholic community is reliant on the state for their protection, the state is also reliant on the social services provided by the area’s Catholics – something that gives Botros leverage when he interfaces with government officials.

While there are nearly 2 million Orthodox Copts, Botros says there are only approximately 60,000 Catholics. Even so, the Catholics operate 22 schools in the region and one local hospital, all of which service Muslims and Christians alike. By his estimation, Catholics provide at least 60 percent of the social services in the region which benefit the local Muslim community.

“The number of Catholics is small,” says Botros, “but because of the centers, we are a powerful force.” Further, he says, most of the government officials have children in their schools, ensuring a certain degree of cooperation.

Makarios, by contrast, offers a less rosy perspective saying that there is an explicit discrimination against the Copts by a government that is unwilling to allow them full participation in civil life.

He notes that Copts are unable to serve in sensitive or high-level positions – and when the government is pressed on this, according to Makarios, they rely on the “silly” excuse that the practice of Confession could lead to Christian employees being forced to reveal state secrets.

“This is not an issue in any other country,” says Makarios. “Copts are very loyal to Egypt.”

He offers three, interconnected pieces of advice for Copts trying to navigate their place in a society in which, he believes, their future may be uncertain: Ask for your rights, do so for all of your life, and keep asking for them even if you never get them….

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