Middle East Christians bemoan plight of Egypt’s Copts
Beirut - The twin attacks that ripped through worshippers celebrating Palm Sunday in Coptic churches in Egypt shocked the Arab world, sparking outrage and condemnations, especially in countries with significant Christian minorities.
In Lebanon, the only Arab country headed by a Christian president, the bombings of churches in Tanta and Alexandria were denounced as attempts to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims.
“What is targeted is coexistence. They want us as Christians to fear our Muslim neighbours who live with us in the same building in the same city,” said Antoine Courban, a professor of philosophy of science at Saint Joseph University in Beirut.
“The aim is to dislocate our diverse and pluralistic societies who have been living together for ages in a constitutional and national context… but they will not succeed.”
Courban argued that non-Muslims, be they Christian or Yazidi, are a weak bracket in Arab societies in which the collective religious identity is of great importance, taking precedence over national belonging. “What happened in Egypt is evidence that priority in our societies is for religious identity instead of the national identity,” Courban said.
He cautioned against the increasing speech of intimidation, hatred and religious extremism. “It should be literally uprooted in order to be able to live together, otherwise we are heading to suicide,” Courban said.
“Whether in Egypt, Syria or Iraq, it is the human being and the individual freedom (of worship) which are targeted. The aim is to make non-Muslims fear the Muslims who are their partners in the nation,” Courban added.
More than 40 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the church assaults, the latest claimed by the Islamic State (ISIS) against Egypt’s Copts. The jihadist group has stepped up attacks and threats against Copts, who comprise about 10% of Egypt’s population and are the biggest Christian minority in the Middle East. In February, scores of Christian families and students fled Egypt’s North Sinai province after a series of targeted killings.
In Jordan, the incidents echoed loudly among the Christian community whose members described them as “vile” and “unbelievable.”
“Who would do such a thing to a community celebrating a religious holiday?” asked Marwan Abbassi, 61, a Christian shop owner. “Only evil would kill in the places where people find solace and peace. We understand that nowhere is safe but we will never give up.”
“They can never break us apart. Here in Jordan we condemn what they did and we stand with our brothers and sisters in Egypt and support them all the way,” Abbassi added.
Jordanians flooded social media with angry comments. Some blasted the attacks as “cowardly” and others vowed support for the families of victims.
“It is outrageous. Attacking a house of worship is a crime against humanity,” said Norma Shawareb, a Christian housewife. “We completely understand that what they did has nothing to do with (Islamic) religion and they just want to kill peaceful people without any regards to human beings and places of worship; we pray to God to protect our Jordan from killers.”
Iraqi Christians feel great solidarity, having been persecuted by ISIS.
“There is no explanation for bombing Egyptian Copts in the midst of Eid. It is a conspiracy against all of us to push us to leave the region,” said Samar Boutros,” a Christian resident of Baghdad.
Boutros refrained from attending mass on Palm Sunday, fearing a similar assault on churches in Iraq. “ISIS can order [its] members in any country to carry out such cowardly attacks,” she said.
The Reverend Martin Hermez, an Iraqi priest, blamed the persecution of minorities in the region on the proliferation of takfiri ideology, which deems non-Muslims as apostates.
“What happened in Egypt lately and in Iraq earlier is politically motivated. Naïve and weak people are being brainwashed and exploited with the aim of emptying the region from Christians through aggression,” Hermez said.
Christians in the Palestinian territories said they do not feel threatened by similar attacks but share fears that if Palestinian society does not fight extremism through inclusive education emphasising respect for other religions, things might change.
“As a Palestinian Christian I never felt that I am a minority because in Palestine, Christians practise their religion freely but in Egypt Copts are oppressed and treated very badly by others,” said Dalia Rinawi, who runs a beauty salon in Ramallah.
She said the bombings were not attempts to scare Copts but a straight-forward, violent message: “If you do not leave Egypt, we will bomb you anywhere.”
For Palestinian Christian Yusef Daher, they were attempts to “wipe out” Christians.
“There are no demands. They want to kill as much as possible. This is execution,” he said.