Why Are Egypt's Christians An Easy Target?

Egypt's Christians, who are the country's largest minority, often find themselves the target of unwanted attention in times of political turmoil. Instability, chaos, political upheaval, and war make society narcissistic and inward-looking, and minorities are often seen as either the instigator of or cause of trouble. 

While violent clashes between supporters of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood and the military government continue, there has been a spike in anti-Christian attacks over the last week. Thirty-two churches have been "completely destroyed, burned, or looted," according to Mina Thabet, an activist with Christian rights group the Maspero Youth Union. There has also been a series of attacks on Christian-owned business and schools across the country. It is widely believed that supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi are behind the attacks.

Adel Guindy, president of the U.S.-based Coptic Solidarity society, told France 24 that he believed Egypt's Coptic Christians were being targeted because Coptic Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria endorsed the removal of Preident Morsi from power. "Copts are paying the price for standing with the rest of Egyptians, their compatriots. You know 30 million people went out on the streets at the end of June demanding the ousting of Morsi and his regime, the totalitarian regime," Guindy said. Nobody has been charged with the attacks, nor has anyone yet claimed responsibility.  

Christians make up between 10 and 20% of Egypt's population. Coptic Christians account for 95% of Egypt's Christians, while the rest consist of Catholics, evangelicals, Protestants, and others. Christianity in Egypt can be dated back to 33 AD, making it older than Christianity in Europe. The Coptic Church has its own pope, who often acts as a mediator on behalf of all of Egypt's Christians, between the state and wider Egyptian society. In times of strife and turmoil, Arab Christians often find themselves in difficult situation, although Christianity is a recognized religion by Islam and Islam does not command the destruction or genocide of Christians.

There are a series of complex social, cultural, and political reasons why Christians can find themselves the subject of attacks in times of social upheaval. Some of the reasons have to do with being an easily identifiable minority (in the case of Egypt they are the largest), - making them more vulnerable to attack. When Islamists feel targeted they, like other groups, look for perceived outsiders to blame. In this case, Christians are even easier targets, because leading Christian figures have endorsed the anti-Morsi coup.

In addition to this, Christians are often seen as having ties to outside (Western) powers, something that has its historic roots in European colonization of the region. The Hosni Mubarak regime would also play on sectarian fears and manipulate them, pitting Islamists against Copts, Islamists against liberals, and so on. This divide-and-rule tactic went on for 30 years and Egyptian society has internalized these divisions. Thus, when chaos occurs people retreat into their deeply held-prejudices and act them out violently. We are not witnessing the end of Christianity in Egypt — but we are witnessing a very dangerous precedent, one of which cannot be allowed to spiral out of control any farther.

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Usman Butt

British-based writer and commentator on politics, history, science and religious. Specializes on the Middle East and North Africa. Obtained an MA from the University of Exeter. See my other two blogs for more information and articles. Catch 21 UK- http://www.catch21.co.uk/author/usman-butt Future Foreign Policy- http://blog.futureforeignpolicy.com/author/usmanbutt/

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