A Coptic Orthodox bishop surveys a damaged church in Minya, Egypt, where Christians are gripped by new fears of persecution. (Reuters)
Christians in Egypt are facing a new wave of persecution at the hands of Muslim extremists, and human rights groups fear the situation could be on the brink of exploding.
While the attacks on Egypt’s Christian community are not on the scale of persecution faced by their brethren in Syria and Iraq, the Coptics – mostly descendants of the people whose Pharaohs ruled ancient Egypt before the 7th century – say they face renewed isolation in the country.
“We are the weaker element in society, so if anything happens, we will be the first victims,” Mina Thabet, a Coptic activist and researcher at the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, told FoxNews.com from Cairo.
“You are a target for extremists when no one is supporting you,” he added in a reference to the “oftensluggish” protection the Christian community says it gets from the police.
“It is astonishing that Coptic citizens’ exercise of their constitutional, legal right to worship and build, renovate and reconstruct houses of worship is still hostage to the approval of a majority of the area’s residents,”
Ishak Ibrahim, chief of EIPR’s Freedom of Religion and Belief Program – Ishak Ibrahim, Egyptian activist While Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has taken steps to protect Coptic Christians amid his calls for national unity, many of the latest incidents have occurred in Minya Governorate of Upper Egypt, about 150 miles south of Cairo.
The mix of poverty and limited job prospects there is typical of the social conditions Thabet says could trigger the sort of unrest in which the country’s Christians – comprising Orthodox, Catholic and some Protestant members of the faith – become central targets, just as Jews were historically targeted during pogroms.
“Not all the people would blame the Copts,” he said. “But many ordinary Egyptians have strong thoughts toward the Coptic community.”
A recent incident saw Muslim mobs in the Minya village of Nasreya descend on the homes of five Coptic students, chanting they had “insulted” Islam in a video that was circulating showing the youths praying with their Coptic teacher.