Egyptian Christians are suffering increased persecution – fearing to leave their homes – and human rights say the Obama administration doesn’t care.
In late October, Dr. Monir Dawoud, president of the American Coptic Association, led a rally in front of the United Nations’ New York headquarters, protesting the "massacre and ethnic cleansing of our people – the Christians of Egypt."
He blamed "jihadist Muslim Brotherhood groups helped by the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak."
Dr. Dawoud specifically protested recent attacks against the leadership of the Coptic Church as well as the "bloodshed, murder, abducting and Islamizing of young Christian girls.
Specifically, he cited the murder of six young Christian men leaving Christmas services last January "and the Egyptian court’s continued delay in the killers’ trial."
"Copts are afraid to venture out of their homes in fear of being attacked," said Dr. Dawoud. "Ten attacks of this type have taken place in the last five weeks, an average of two such attacks a week."
The Copts claim to be the original inhabitants of Egypt, preceding the arrival of Arab Muslims and say that they are one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East.
Dr. Dawoud said the recent terror campaign began on September 15, when Muhammad Salim al-Awa of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, appeared on the Muslim cable TV new channel al-Jazeera and accused Egyptian Christians of "stocking arms and ammunition in their churches and monasteries."
A false rumor was also repeated during the interview, then repeated in the pages of the Egyptian newspaper al-Shurouk, that Egyptian security agencies had apprehended a cargo ship laden with explosives sent to the Coptic Christians from Israel.
"In an angry tirade," according to Dr. Dawoud, "al-Awa made unfounded charges, including the claim that Ccptic leaders had said that Egypt was ‘our Christian country’ to the exclusion of Muslims."
Al-Awa also accused Coptic Christians of "political activities" and warned that "fire would spread throughout the country." He then surmised that the alleged weapons he alleged the Copts are hoarding "can only have one purpose – to be used against Muslims."
He asserted that Coptic Christians want to "split Egypt into two states," Muslim and Christian.
Al-Awa also said that the Copts are a "fifth column" that is preparing to wage war against Muslims on behalf of Israel. He made the false claim that Egyptian police cannot enter Coptic monasteries to investigate or uncover the weapons.
In reality, the monasteries have no such immunity, instead are regularly victimized by authorities who regularly deny permission to repair churches or build new ones in Egypt.
Dr. Dawoud said that following al-Awa’s lead, Muslim leaders began to inflame the Egyptian population by circulating rumors that the church regularly kidnap Coptic women who have willingly converted to Islam, and then trap the women in desert monasteries, all the while torturing them and re-indoctrinating them back into Christianity.
In reality, Dr. Dawoud said that Coptic girls are regularly abducted by Muslims and forced into marriage while being held incommunicado for years from their families. Egyptian police refuse to even question the girls, claiming they have willingly converted to Islam and do not wish to have anything to do with their relatives.
On October 8, Egyptian radicals held a street demonstration in which they charged that Coptic leader Father Bishoy be put on trial for having questioned the authenticity of the Koran in a sermon.
The demonstrators called for searching monasteries and churches for hidden weapons, and issued direct threats to Coptic leaders, "just wait, we will dig your grave with our own hands."
They continued with chants such as "Egypt will remain Islamic" and called for boycotts of Christian businesses. Christian Copts account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s 83 million population.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has failed to protect them, according to Coptic leader Raymond Ibrahim,
Ibrahim, who lectures at the U.S. National Defense Intelligence College in Washington, D.C., said Egypt has transformed into the spearhead of the Muslim Brotherhood and has developed a structure for intimidating the nation’s estimated eight million Coptic Christians.
Dr. Dawoud recently organized a protest in front of the White House when President Mubarak visited the U.S.
Dr. Dawoud says the oppressed Copts are an example of what could happen in America if Islam is triumphant.
On October 31, at least 46 Christians were killed and more than 80 others severely injured when Islamic militants stormed the Syriac Catholic Cathedral of Our Lady of Salvation in Baghdad, Iraq, during services.
The gunmen, armed with automatic weapons and explosives, entered the building and demanded that the Coptic Christians in Egypt release Iranian women. The gunmen claimed the women were raised as Christians, but had voluntarily converted to Islam, but now were being held captive by the Egyptian Christians.
The gunmen then shot a priest and began spraying the crowd with bullets. Hours of terror, confusion and bloodshed followed. One of the gunmen reportedly called a local TV network during the siege. He said he was part of the Islamic State of Iraq, a group linked to al-Qaida, and demanded the release of the Muslim women within 48 hours. After four hours, Iraqi security forces stormed the church and put an end to the hostage situation.
Later that evening, a cryptically worded statement that appeared to claim responsibility for the attack was posted on a website belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq. The statement said that an "angry group of mujahideen from among the supporters of Allah raided one of the filthy dens of idolatry that was used by the Christians of Iraq as a headquarters to fight the religion of Islam."
The group also stated that it would "exterminate Iraqi Christians," if the Muslim women in Egypt were not freed.
Dr. Dawoud says he has been unsuccessful in efforts to gain a hearing from the White House or anyone else in the Obama administration.
He noted how Obama had apologized for America’s misdeeds to Muslims, stating that he came "to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world."
Coptic leaders say that while reaching out to Muslims, the administration has turned a deaf ear to the pleas of Christians in the very country where he delivered his apology to Muslims.
"The Obama administration’s benign neglect of Arab Christians, is putting freedoms and human rights in the whole Middle East at risk," said the president of the U.S. Copts Association, Michael Meunier. "Friendship with Muslims has been the Obama administration’s opening theme from his first day in office and in that famed Cairo speech in which he extended a hand to all Muslims in partnership."
Meunier added that that the president’s failure to speak as extensively about the persecution of Arab Christians is a grave error.
"We have no problems with American friendships with Islam and Muslims, but it cannot be accomplished at the expense of our rights as Egyptian Christians. The very lives of our people there are endangered," Meunier said.
He cited an Egyptian law banning the repair or construction of churches without a "presidential decree."
The measure, known as the Hamayuni Law, is based on an 1856 Ottoman decree, but was rarely enforced in Egypt until 1952.
He said that when Gamal Abdel Nasser in power in 1952, Christian communities in Egypt – including Catholics, Protestants, Armenians, Greeks and Italians in addition to the Copts – had enjoyed a climate of moderate Islam as the country westernized itself.
Because Christianity in Egypt is so ancient, preceding Islam by seven centuries, the country is a repository of multiple centuries-old churches, part of its international cultural heritage.
Those churches which are tourist attractions for tourists get a measure of protection by the state. Elsewhere in Egypt, smaller, ordinary churches are regularly targeted.
Because of the Hamayuni Law, churches that are vandalized or burned down are not allowed to be repaired.
Copts say they are down to 2,524 church buildings now, down from more than 3,000 in the early 1950s.
The bigger problem is not only that of systematic destruction of churches but the inability to replace the losses and build more to keep up with the growth of the Christian population.
The situation is so bad that Copts have often have to travel far distances outside of their towns for religious services for baptism, marriages and funerals.
Since 1971 only 37 "presidential decrees" have been issued to build new churches and 34 decrees have been issued for repairs or refurbishments, such as replacing broken windows.
Egypt’s parliament has refused multiple proposals to write off the law or cancel it. Christian landowners need official permits to build a church.
Muslims, by contrast, need no such permission from the state, the presidency, or the government to build mosques anywhere in Egypt.
As a result, thousands of new mosques have been erected over the past 30 years. Most were funded with Saudi money.
With the expansion of Islamic houses of prayer proceeds in Egypt, churches are forbidden to expand or even be repaired.
Imams routinely urge Muslims to boycott Christians in business and social gatherings, cross the street to avoid mingling with them, refrain from shaking hands with them or joining them in business ventures.