Coptic Christians Excluded From Talks With New Government in Egypt?
Persecuted Christians in Egypt must be defended by Christians throughout the world Coptic Christians have suffered persecution in their country for centuries. They cannot even go to Mass on Christmas Eve without the fear of being shot to death or blown to pieces. It is inconceivable that the new Egyptian government and President Obama would consider talks without their participation. Yet, that is exactly what they initially planned to do. Catholic Online:
Dr. Naguib Gabriel, head of the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights Organization, and a Copt, requested that the new Vice-President, Major Omar Suleiman, include the Copts in the dialogue with government authorities. Dr. Gabriel's request to the Vice-President was aired on some TV channels this past weekend. He stressed "that it is not possible under any circumstances to exclude Copts from the national dialog," in part, because Copts are members of the Egyptian community.
Actually, the Copts are the original Egyptians, and they are overwhelmingly Catholic. They date their ancestry back to the first century. Tradition has it that the Gospel writer, Saint Mark, brought the Gospel to Alexandria, Egypt. Consequently, Christianity had established deep roots in the region long before the Muslim invasion in the seventh century. However, the Copts are only 10% to 20% of the Egyptian population today, yet they are the largest religious minority in the Middle East.
The Copts are dismayed that they are being excluded from the talks, and some are angry. They not only make up a significant part of the population, but some Copts believe that the demonstrations were partially sparked by the bombing of Saints Church in Alexandria on New Year's Eve. It was reported that Bishop Anba Suriel of Melbourne said he believes the ". . . revolution began with the New Year massacre of 23 Copts." As a result, Copts feel very much involved with the current turn of events in their country.
However, the initial position of the Coptic Orthodox Church was that Copts should not join the demonstrations. But many Copts felt it was necessary to be a presence in what they hoped would be the beginning of greater democratic reforms, so the Church relented. Besides economic and political reform, many Copts want certain wording removed from Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution which states that "Islamic Sharia is the source of legislation." The Copts believe this language has been used to reduce them to second class citizens. The Copts also want proportionate representation and an end to the restrictions on church construction.
Coptic Christians are also dismayed because they have been a visible part of the demonstrations since they began on January 25, but not invited to participate in the talks with the other visible groups. One such group in particular is the Muslim Brotherhood. They see the Muslim Brotherhood, like many people, as a dangerous group that wants to establish an Islamic state in Egypt and throughout the world. For the Copts, this is an ominous sign and a direct threat to their future well being.
This concern was exacerbated when President Obama signaled openness to the Muslim Brotherhood's participation in the talks. The heightened concern many Copts feel as a result can be gleaned from an article posted on the U.S. Copts Association website. The title of the article is "Obama's Brotherhood Moment." The first sentence is as follows: "Game over: Barack Obama has endorsed a role for the Muslim Brotherhood in a new, post-Mubarak government for Egypt."
The Copts have suffered persecution in their country for centuries. They cannot even go to Mass on Christmas Eve without the fear of being shot to death or blown to pieces. Given the history of the Coptic people and their significance in Egypt, it is inconceivable that the new government and President Obama would consider talks without their participation. Yet, that is exactly what they initially planned to do.
However, in another report that came out on Thursday, February 10, it now appears that the Egyptian government has decided to meet with Dr. Gabriel after all. Whether these talks materialize or not one thing is certain, if the Copts are not allowed full and meaningful participation in these talks, then we can predict that they will continue to be marginalized in the future or worse. That would be a travesty and must not be allowed.
Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.