Thursday, January 20, 2011

The Plight of the Copts

The Middle East is a lousy place to be a Christian... (unless of course if you live in Israel where your rights are protected).

The Copts are one of the earliest Christian communities in the world, established by St. Mark shortly after the Ascension. Surely, it is one of the very early Christian communities outside the holy land. Today they make perhaps 8 million in their native Egypt where the population is about 80 million. Despite of their relatively small share in the population and their dispersion in a large, populous country, they manage to maintain a highly integrated community and hold a large share of the country's wealth.

After the Arab/Islamic conquest after the rise of Muhammad in the 7th century, AD, the Copts were allowed to stay as Dhimmi's (paying a head tax and accepting a second class citizens in exchange for not being killed). And they remained in Egypt. In later centuries this relatively small minority of the total population has become very vibrant, educated and wealthy. Although they are very influential on Arab culture as a whole, their liturgical language acts as a historical link to ancient Egyptian.

More recently, the plight of the Copts became unbearable. Many of them are choosing to leave Egypt, much like the Christians of Lebanon and Iraq. The recent New Years Eve and Christmas attacks.

As someone who is familiar with Jewish history, I cannot help but see many parallels:

1. Lived for many years as second class citizens amid a dominant culture.

2. Were able to rise to prosperity through education, culture and trade.

3. Are often subject to nasty blood libels. Many Muslim Egyptians believe that the Pope of the Copts is constructing an army behind church walls... all of it is funded by those nasty Zionists!

Are the Copts that leave for the west completely safe? It's hard to say that they are... recently in Canada Coptic churches and influential community leaders found out that they are being targeted by Al Qaida. What's their crime? Maintaining their culture and not willing to sit quietly while their brethren in Egypt are being slaughtered.

It seems as though out of all the ethnic minorities in the Middle East, the Palestinians are the only ones that deserve the attention of human rights groups.

In the past, the government of Israel has actively intervened on behalf of Christian minorities, such as the Maronites in Lebanon. This however, proved as a disastrous long term strategy, their allies were proven unreliable. Also, Israel as a Jewish state herself struggles to gain the acceptance of the Middle East and to keep things cool and calm with the government of Egypt.

Unfortunately, it's up to the little guy to voice the alarm.


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