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Shea: Watershed Moment: Copts Killed in Violence

Coptic Priest shouting pro-Christian solgans at Cairo Funeral

Nina Shea, noted human rights lawyer and Director of the Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom and a Commissioner of the Congressionally-chartered US Commission on International Religious Freedom was interviewed by the National Catholic Register about the massacre of Copts in Cairo this weekend. In the November edition of the NER, we will be published an interview with Shea and colleague Paul Marshall, and reviewing their forthcoming book, Silenced:  How Apostasy & Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide (Oxford University Press, October, 2011).

Shea's grim prediction is" a 'major exodus' of Christians after deadly violence in Cairo."

Note the comment of Shea's colleague at the Hudson Institute Center, Samuel Tadros, as quoted in a Wall Street Journal, column by Bret Stephens,  "Egypt's Silhouette of Fire."

"Will the Middle East be emptied of its Christians, like the earlier pogroms emptied the Middle East of its Jews?" asks Samuel Tadros, an Egyptian Copt and research fellow at the Hudson Institute. " Iraq had 1.5 million Christians; they could be absorbed by other countries. But how will the world deal with eight million Copts?"

In an email exchange with Shea about her interview, I commented:

This is the inevitable sorrowful conclusion that any one can draw who has followed these developments since the Arab Spring erupted in Egypt. You, Mark Durie, my friend at CAMERA in Boston, Dexter Van Zile, Mary Abdelmassih of the AINA news service and others have noted in the run up to these horrific events of this weekend what inevitably occured. Yet what has the Vatican, the World Council of Churches done to arouse moral outrage for beleaguered Coptic Christians? Now, where will the West absorb 8 million Copts? In their Diaspora? I had suggested in an unpublished white paper in 2005 that if Israel had not relinguished the Sinai under pressure it could have provided a bolt hole for the Copts, cutting off the terrorstan in Gaza under the Muslim Brotherhood in Palestine, Hamas, and giving Israel strategic defense in depth.
The world organziations at the UN in New York and Geneva are under the hegemony of the OIC and allies in the Non-Aligned Movement. There are no tears for Middle Eastern Christians.
What would our Congress do, as the Obama Administration will engage in temporizing handwringing, as they have supported the Arab Spring.
With the exodus of the Copts from their ancestral homeland as the aboriginal people, Dar al Islam reigns supreme by making Egypt Christianrein. 

Here is Shea's interview from the National Catholic Register;

What happened yesterday in Cairo ?

Coptic Christians organized a protest against religious persecution. It was announced in advance, and it was a march to the state broadcasting station to protest the recent burning of churches by Salafi Muslims.

There have been sporadic church burnings over the past year, and the most recent wasSept. 30. The Copts felt they were not being protected — the government was not guarding the churches.

The armed forces — police and military — ruthlessly crushed this protest. There is videotape of an armed personnel carrier going into the mob and crushing six people — running them over. Others were killed as well. A Reuters story reported that at least 19 died. The Washington Post reported that at least 26 died, mostly Christians, and hundreds have been injured. Coptic sources say that at least 35 died.

I have a Coptic Christian working for me, and we were getting reports last night that after the military police showed up at the march Muslims had come into the streets to support the Christian marchers. There may have been a clash between the marchers and the armed forces at that point.

As an expert on religious freedom throughout the world, what is your assessment of the situation?

The real significance of this is that it signals the future treatment of the Christian Coptic community by the state. The military was their last hope in protecting them from lawless forces in society that were religiously motivated to [eradicate] them, namely the Salafis. Now they know they have no protection.

I think we can expect to see a major exodus of Coptic Christians from Egypt . This is a watershed moment. The whole reason they have no protection.

I think we can expect to see a major exodus of Coptic Christians from Egypt . This is a watershed moment. The whole reason they were in the streets was to protest lawless forces. It extinguishes all hope for them.

have no protection.

I think we can expect to see a major exodus of Coptic Christians from Egypt . This is a watershed moment. The whole reason they were in the streets was to protest lawless forces. It extinguishes all hope for them. They are utterly vulnerable.

They are utterly vulnerable.

How did the collapse of the Mubarak government change the status of Christians in Egypt ?

Under the Mubarak government, the Salafi Muslims were kept in check. They followed their Salafi practices in their villages, but did not exert real political influence.

In the transition to democracy, the Salafis have started to get organized. They are trying to shape society more assertively. They have held joint rallies with the Muslim Brotherhood. What they want is a more Saudi Arabian model, where the country is cleansed of religious minorities, and there would be coerced Islamic practice — in dress, in no co-mingling of the sexes, and in enforced prayer and fasting.

Egypt has a large population of Muslims who do not practice their faith so rigorously. Now there is a push for forced orthodoxy according to the most rigid Salafi teaching.


Is that why some Muslims had joined the Christian marchers when the military police showed up?

Other Egyptians are frustrated and angry with the military for a variety of reasons. There is frustration that state security laws still apply and there is brutality.

While the Muslim Brotherhood wants quick elections, the military is trying to delay elections.

Has the Obama administration addressed anti-Christian sectarian violence in Egypt ?

There has not been strong support for the Copts by this administration. After Mubarak’s departure, the focus has been on the Muslim Brotherhood. The administration sees them as the future in Egypt and is trying to develop ties with them.

But the status of the Copts will be the bellwether for how other religious minorities will be treated in Egypt . If the Copts leave, this will be a profound development

And if the Egyptian military drives the Copts out of their country, it will be our problem. Millions of Copts will be seeking asylum. Religious demographics are treated as a state secret in Egypt , but there are an estimated 8-10 million Copts.

What should the administration do now?

The U.S. generously supports the military in Egypt . We have a lot of leverage with them. They should be told that if they fail to protect the Christian minority, military aid will be cut back.

It is against our national interest to support a military that allows the eradication of Christians by other groups.

The White House has issued a statement about the Iranian Christian pastor who was recently killed, but the plight of Coptic Christians has much more far-reaching impact. [The White House released this statement about the Coptic situation:“Now is a time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt . As the Egyptian

people shape their future, the United States continues to believe that the rights of minorities — including Copts — must be respected and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom.”]

How has the Arab Spring influenced the status of Christians in the Middle East ?

Right now, it is extremely precarious for Christians. Last February, the Coptic Christians joined other protesters in Tahrir Square , where the demonstrations took place. The Christians were hopeful; they wanted a democratic opening.

But in the security vacuum after Mubarak’s fall, they were quickly targeted. The military has let that happen. It looks like this Arab Spring will be a cold winter for Christians in Egypt, and now we will have to worry about what will happen next in Syria.

What will happen to Christians in Syria if that government falls?

Many Christians who left Iraq have found refuge in Syria, where about a million Christians now live. About 50% of Iraq’s Christian population has left since the 2003 U.S. invasion.

While we were told by the Bush administration that the surge would be the solution, the surge helped everyone but the Christians. The surge drove al Qaeda to the north, where the Christians were living. Since then, Christians have been selectively targeted and driven out. Now that they are scattered, many fear they will lose their ancient culture, which goes back 2,000 years.

The Syrian government has been more liberal regarding religious freedom because it is secular. But if the Syrian government falls, we have to start preparing to help the Christians in the aftermath. They were protected by the Assad regime, but the majority of Syria’s population is Sunni. If they come to power, there could be a bloodletting against the Christian minority, who, in their eyes, is associated with the Assad regime.

We have to use all our diplomatic influence and provide asylum. We have to do more than we did for Iraqi Christians.

What had been the political role of Christians in this region?

Christians were among the leaders of the Arab nationalist movement that was the ideology of Iraq and Syria. That ideology of Arab nationalism has been replaced by Islamism, where there is no role for Christians.

In the past, Christians were able to establish some of the premier universities in the region. Christians have been skilled professionals. They were a moderating influence and thus a bridge between East and West — because of their treatment of women and their knowledge of foreign languages.

There are now about 500,000-700,000 Christians in Iraq and about a million each in Syria and Lebanon. But there are 8 million to 10 million Copts in Egypt. You can see what the stakes are here: This is the largest non-Muslim population in the region.

What is the Vatican’s policy?

The Vatican wants to defuse the situation and maintain a presence there. They do not see asylum as an easy solution.

But when the Pope spoke out in January, Egypt broke off both secular and religious dialogue with the Vatican. The Vatican got a slap in the face.

The signal is that Christians need to take whatever is meted out to them and not complain. Now, according to news reports, Copts have concluded, “We are not first-class citizens.”

Register senior editor Joan Frawley Desmond writes from Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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