The Plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians


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The following interview with Freedom Center Shillman Journalism Fellow Raymond Ibrahim was conducted by Wolff Bachner and first appeared on The Inquisitr.

Most of us in the West have little knowledge of what life is like for Christians in the Muslim world. Take for example, the Coptic Christians, who were once the dominant religious group in Egypt. Previously the mainstay of their nation, Copts are now living as an oppressed minority, denied religious freedom and equal status in Egyptian life. The Copts are routinely denied meaningful employment and may not hold positions in the Egyptian Civil Service. Copts are refused permission to build new churches and even a request to renovate a church that is badly in need of repair can lead to an outbreak of severe Muslim violence against the Copts. Recently, there have even been calls for a return to collecting Jizya from the Copts, a tax that the Qur’an instructs Muslims to charge to all Dhimmis (non-Muslims) whenever Muslims are in power.

To give our readers an accurate picture of the situation in Egypt, we asked Raymond Ibrahim to answer several questions about the Coptic Christians. Raymond is the son of Coptic Christian parents who were born in Egypt and he has firsthand knowledge about Coptic life under Islam. Raymond is a highly respected Middle East and Islam specialist, a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum. A widely published author, best known for The Al Qaeda Reader (Doubleday, 2007), he guest lectures at universities, including the National Defense Intelligence College. Raymond also briefs governmental agencies, such as U.S. Strategic Command and the Defense Intelligence Agency.  Among other media, he has appeared on Inquisitr.com, MSNBC, Fox News, C-SPAN, PBS, Reuters, Al-Jazeera, CBN, and NPR. Raymond is fluent in Arabic and he has studied the Qur’an and many ancient Islamic historical documents in the original language. You can find Raymond’s latest writings at http://www.raymondibrahim.com.

Here is our interview with Raymond Ibrahim:

1. Who are the Coptic Christians and what is their history?

Raymond Ibrahim:

The Copts are the indigenous inhabitants of Egypt, before the Arab/Muslim invasion around 641 A.D.  The word “Copt” simply means “Egyptian”; however, because all Egyptians were Christian in the 7th century—Egypt was a major Christian center, so much so that Alexandria vied with Rome over ecclesiastical leadership—“Copt” also became synonymous with “Christian.”  In short, the word Copt is similar to the word Jew: both words convey a people and a religion. Tradition teaches that St. Mark, author of the Gospel of the same name, proselytized the pagan Egyptians of the 1st century; by approximately the 3rd century, Christianity was the dominant religion; and by the 7th century when Islam burst into Egypt, Christianity was THE religion.

2. When did persecution of the Copts begin and why?

Raymond Ibrahim:

Muslim persecution of the Copts begins with the Islamic invasion.  It is true that, at the time, the Copts were already under nearly a decade of persecution by the Byzantine Empire over doctrinal disputes.  However, with Islam’s entry, the persecution took on a different shape, and grew steadily worse, until the modern era and the age of colonialism.  At first, and because the Copts were the majority people of Egypt, they were merely deemed a subject race, to be heavily taxed and kept in line by their Muslim overlords.  Over the years, however, their subject status came to be codified in what is seen as Islam’s divine and immutable law, or Sharia.

3. What is Life like for a Copt today in Egypt?

Raymond Ibrahim:

There are approximately 10 million Copts in Egypt, roughly 12% of the population.  This is not an insignificant number.  In fact, in the entire Middle East, Copts make for the largest Christian minority.  Accordingly, the everyday average Copt is not “persecuted”; however, everyday forms of discrimination are common (for instance, only Muslims get hired for the best jobs, and so forth).  The problem, though, is that persecution of the sort that occurred centuries ago—for instance, the ongoing attacks on churches—is on the rise, unsurprisingly so, considering the overall Islamization of Egypt in recent decades, culminating with Islamists, who were once in jail for their extremist views, now sitting in Egypt’s new parliament.

4. What can the Copts do to protect their lives and preserve their religion?  What does the future hold for the Copts? Can they survive in the Middle East and remain faithful Coptic Christians?

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  • http://jc.does-it.net Geneww

    We know God has predicted times will worsen for Christians as we approach the end-times and tribulations. I believe every persecuted and tortured Christian would still prefer this earth’s torment to gain the riches of heaven compared to the eternal abode of their tormentors. http://jc.does-it.net for a one page absolute proof that God authored the Bibles.

  • Durin

    So what can someone in the US do to help Coptic Xians?

  • Schlomotion

    Doesn't it suck the wind out of the article to say "The Plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians" and then a third of the way in say "accordingly, the everyday average Copt is not 'persecuted'; however, everyday forms of discrimination are common?" I feel exactly as if I bought a bag of Funyuns and found out later that neither Fun nor Onions would occur.

    So the issue here is advertised as Muslim oppression of the Copts, but it pans out that it is actually 12% of Egyptians, who consider themselves like the Jews, are upset that their values and mores form a subset instead of a superset of Egyptian rule. Specifically, Egyptian Copts feel unpreferred and unchosen while Muslims feel preferred and chosen. This seems like perhaps an important issue to Copts living in Egypt, but globally it is a nonissue, akin to whether Asians feel more enfranchised than Pacific Islanders in Orange County. In short, who cares? No one is going to turn Egypt upside down (which end is up again?) simply because Copts would get along better with Israelis.

    • RonCarnine

      Dear Schlo, Goodness sake in this case the ability to investigate an issue makes the author's name!! Coptic Christians are being killed by the hundreds and their numbers have diminished drastically. Their daughters are stolen away and married and raped or raped and married if you prefer. Their homes are burnt, their businesses are destroyed and their churches bombed. You make it sound like they are jealous little children whose classmates got a bigger brownie! They are denied jobs, demoted from jobs, and fired from jobs. They are taking on 3rd class status in their country. (In case your wondering, women are second class citizens in Muslim countries) Mr.Ibrahim makes a distinction between physical persecution and discrimination which many people use as synonymous but incorrectly so. "Globally it is a nonissue" you write, only if you are not Coptic or a member of a human rights organization. That's like saying the Nubia in the Sudan are out of bubblegum or otherwise are having a bad day. You must not read much or at least not as deep as you ought or you wouldn't insult the Coptic Christians the way you do.

      • Schlomotion

        OK, so what is your attitude on Black civil rights in the United States?

        • Ghostwriter

          What does that have to do with the subject at hand?

          • Schlomotion

            Well, he's all interested in the Nuba in Sudan, and church bombings. There were plenty Nuba Sudanese brought to the United States, plenty of church bombings here, some attempted mosque bombings too. Another author on here makes a big issue over whether Paul Robeson ignored slavery and murder in Russia because he brought up slavery and murder here. I am just of the mind that you guys trot out African suffering only when it's a benefit to Israeli politics. Generally speaking, this site and its commenters are on the wrong side of civil rights. So I am curious if this bleeding concern he has for Egyptian minorities 6500 miles away actually extends to people 65 feet away.

          • RonCarnine

            Gee sorry Schlo, but I checked out before I read your comment. I know that there is discrimination here. But "plenty of church bombings here?" Yes there was slavery but if you would care enough to check you will see our Founding Fathers planted the seeds of the destruction of slavery at our nation's beginning. Aren't over 350,00 dead white American's enough for you as they fought to end this awful institution? I was a cop in the US and I can tell you, there are very few hate crimes in the US compared to other nations, especially against American blacks. More hate crimes against Jews than against Muslims. But you have missed the whole point. When you have wholesale murder anywhere in the world we should be concerned about it. Its part of being a human and for me its part of being a Christian.

          • Schlomotion

            Another part of being a Christian is being a missionary. If you feel so strongly about Africa, why don't you go there? I am sure they could benefit from your wisdom and years of experience.

          • RonCarnine

            Sorry Schlo, once again I've been gone for a while. I'm not foreign missionary material otherwise I would be glad to go. I was a pastor for 20 yrs. so I guess my "mission" was here in the US. However, I had a good seminary friend that went to Africa and ministered for 25-30 years and is now back in the States training new Missionaries. The reason I'm retired now is that I'm was injured a few years ago and am disabled. I also suffer from early onset dementia so no mission work for me. I do appreciate your suggestion though.

          • Western Canadian

            GR, don’t waste your time on this jew hating whack-job. He is extremely ignorant, quite dim-witted, and so poorly educated he thinks he is brilliant. Possably a lawyer, and one of the least admirable, he cannot argue based on fact, so he always adds off topic drivel. He has been banned several times, first as HermanCmockery. He is garbage, soon to again be taken out.

    • Sage on the Stage

      But the article does refer to the burning of Coptic churches, the barring of Copts from employment, and from employment in the Egyptian civil service. Do Tantawi and the other murderous fanatics that now rule Egypt need to round up the Copts and exterminate them, for you to admit that Islamist rule is a death blow to religious freedom? (Anywhere in the world?) In addition, what's going on in the Sudan? Millions of Christian south Sudanese are being slaughtered by North Sudanese Muslims. And to adopt your reasoning to the United States; there's no problem with terrorist infiltration of the U.S. through the Mexican border; i.e. that's not happening in YOUR backyard.

      • Schlomotion

        I admit readily that Islamist rule is a death blow to religious freedom. But maybe that's what they want over there. In the meantime, the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door.

        • Bartimaeus

          You admit the truth then, thank God. However, although “the Statue of Liberty lifts her lamp beside the golden door”, that only means Islam is coming to the USA and one day you may know personally what it is like to live as the Copts. I hope this will never happen but unless the West begins to take a real stand against any form of Sharia, we may all be Copt in the future. Take a look at the video at “The beginning of the end for England”

          • Schlomotion

            I have a few friends who are Copts and a few who are Arameans. The Constitution is the Supreme Law of the Land here. I think as long as we don't allow our own politicians to subvert the Constitution, we won't be in a position weak enough for Muslims to also subvert the Constitution. I think it is important that no religion, no ethnic group, and no financial interest try to set up its own laws above or below the main body of laws that make us a people. England is a travesty. England also charged headlong into being a police surveillance state. I think that is a greater threat to the West.

          • Western Canadian

            Get real, you don’t ‘think’ period. You just repeat the drivel crammed into your skull by low grade profs, and that is about all you do. Only possible excuse for your low grade posts.

        • Sage on the Stage

          "But maybe that's what they want over there." Who is "they?" Islamist rule, and the resulting demise of religious freedom isn't what the Copts want; it isn't what the Jews want; it isn't what the Hindus want.
          And the Statue of Liberty may lift her lamp beside the golden door;(Is this sarcasm? If it is, then sorry, it doesn't cut it) but religious freedom has diminished here in America, too.

          • Schlomotion

            90% of the population of Egypt is Muslim. To hear you talk, Egypt is a three way multicultural society composed of Copts, Jews and Hindus, but usurped by the Muslims. 90%. Ninety percent are Muslim. So maybe they want a Muslim leader.

    • Monty

      As others have responded, this is precisely why Ibrahim knows his stuff and is a judicious writer. Do Copts have it bad? Yes, churches (as the next sentence points out), and other injustices, are commonplace. But does that mean that, at this moment, there is a wholesale genocide, that 15 million Copts are being massacred? No. And only sensationalists would have you think so. Ibrahim's point is that we shouldn't wait till it gets to that point, but at the same time, we shouldn't exaggerated reality, I think…

      • Schlomotion

        I agree we should not let it get to that point. But by we, I mean they. As an American I have no jurisdiction over social equality in Egypt. If Egyptian Coptic Christians come to the United States and get good jobs at tech firms, and run great bakeries, and sandwich shops, and interior design stores, then as an American I am fully willing and able to embrace them in a spirit of brotherhood and look suspiciously at anyone who impugns them.

        • Ghostwriter

          Then,why have you virtually supported the Islamist in previous posts?

          • Schlomotion

            You're confused. I don't support Islamists. I think they are ridiculous. Why did you say "virtually?"

          • Western Canadian

            He should say completely, based on the ignorant and childish nature of your posts.

  • WilliamJamesWard

    If I was being crushed under a tank I would definately feel unpreferred. The Democrats in Congress threw_the South Vietnamese under the bus and over a million died at the hands of the Communists. The Shah_of Iran is deposed witht he help of Jimmy Carter and over a million followers of the Shah are executed._Pol Pot murders without restraint in one of the longest and cruelest massacres of millions in history,_gratis Democrats.__Today millions will be murdered as Islam moves into it's recreated Caliphate,_thank you Hussein Obama and Mullah Hillary and the Democrats.Islamist invasion of Europe by_stealth jihad and colonization is destroying European cultures which helps prepare a slave population_for the European Union gratis the leftist government leaders who betray their native populations._Canada and America, Central and South America are also infested and it grows and will soon become_bloodier in a very wide area, 9/11 may become the good old days, thank you leftist Democrats/Socialists/_Islamists and the idiots that voted into our Government Barry Sotero aka Hussein Obama, to it's and_our ruin………………………………………William

    • randy

      Do not forget the christians that stole north america as they murdered the natives. The left overs were rounded up and put on reserves.

      • Ghostwriter

        Has anyone told you that you're an idiot,randy?

        • Western Canadian

          I suspect his therapist is one of the many who have. Ignorant little toad, isn’t he?

  • DogsHateRomney

    RE: "The Plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians…"

    Yasser Arafat, is EGYPTIAN!

    Israel is in a struggle for her very life. She is surrounded by nearly two dozen Arab countries, some of whom have already tried several times to wipe Israel out of existence.

    Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979.

    Yes, there has been no-war but there is also no peace.
    http://www.masada2000.org/shit-list.html

    All economic, social and diplomatic contact has ceased. The Egyptian Army continues to arm themselves to the teeth and rehearse battle drills on the Sinai Desert — territory Israel handed over to them as part of that very peace treaty!

  • DogsHateRomney

    Re: "The Plight of Egypt’s Coptic Christians."

    Yasser Arafat was Egyptian.

    Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in 1979. Yes, there has been no-war but there is also no peace.

    The Egyptian Army continues to arm themselves to the teeth and rehearse battle drills on the Sinai Desert — territory Israel handed over to them as part of that very peace treaty!