Locals Seek Support for Harassed Christians in Egypt and the Middle East

As the attention of the world seems to have shifted to Libya (or Charlie Sheen), some locals would like the media light to shine on Christians who were struggling to survive in Egypt even before the Hosni Mubarak government collapsed.

“Three weeks ago, nine out of 10 tweets I received were related to
Egypt. Now, I think I saw one tweet last week that was related to
Egypt. It seems that everyone went home, as though democracy fell
magically on Egypt,” informs Father Joseph Boules of St. Mary and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church in Anaheim.

Coptic Orthodox Christians form 10 percent to 20 percent of the 79 million-strong population in Egypt, yet under the Mubarak regime, “they had zero representation in high-level governmental positions,” Father Boules explained.

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Father Joseph Boules leads St. Mary and St. Verena Coptic Orthodox Church in Anaheim, but he has his eyes on Egypt.

“Perpetrators of heinous acts of persecution against Christians did not face any legal consequences for killing, murdering, looting, raping or burning of Christian homes and shops,” he tells the Weekly. “Secondly, women are treated in a very demeaning way.”

Since the 1981 assassination of Anwar Sadat, Egypt was under “emergency law,” general elections have been tainted, and economic conditions have sharply deteriorated. While those who forced Mubarak out cheer in the streets, Father Boules is not convinced things have really changed–especially for Coptic Orthodox Christians.

“Will there be religious tolerance?” he asks. “Will all citizens be treated equally? Will there be transparency and accountability?”

His hope: that “we continue to shine the spotlight on Egypt until these issues are properly addressed. Lest we turn our backs and find Egypt regressed 60 years back. Christians, given past and current situations, are guardedly optimistic.”

To help shine a light on the situation, Coptic Orthodox Bishop Serapion spoke at the Convention Center in Los Angeles Sunday afternoon about the Copts' vision and hope for rebuilding Egypt.

“While we have a deep concern about the direction of the country, we still have strong hope and great dreams,” Bishop Serapion said as Coptic Christians who have been killed in religiously motivated attacks by extremists in Egypt since 2000 were honored. About 40,000 Copts live in Southern California, where there are 30 Coptic Orthodox churches.

Bishop Serapion has a personal connection to the violence in Egypt. On Feb. 20, his mentor, Daoud Boutros, a Coptic priest from Shotb near the southern Egyptian city of Assiut, was stabbed to death in his apartment. That same day, Egyptian military forces began destroying fences protecting ancient Coptic monasteries, leaving the monks and monasteries vulnerable to attacks. On Feb. 23, military forces opened fire on monks and young people, wounding many severely.

In the past 11 years, Coptic Christians have suffered severe persecution and martyrdom at the hands of Islamic extremists, including the New Year's Day suicide bombing of Saint Mark and Pope Peter Coptic Orthodox Church in Alexandria, which killed 24 Copts and injured approximately 100, according to the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles, Southern California and Hawaii that is headed by Bishop Serapion.

At the Convention Center, where he also observed a moment of silence for those who died in recent weeks during political demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square, he echoed the Reverend Martin Luther King's call to use nonviolent means in advocating for a fair society for all Egyptians.

“What is the direction the society will move? Are we moving toward a state where every citizen has equal rights, irrespective of gender or religion, or a religious state where some people are considered as second-class citizens?” he asked. “We are at a crossroads in our society. We must focus on freedom, justice and equality, irrespective of the name of the person.”

A Santa Ana-based group is also calling for special help for Christians in the Middle East in light of the turmoil there. Lindsay Vessey, advocacy director for Open Doors USA, is seeking support for a bill authored by U.S. Representative Frank Wolf (R-Virginia) that would create a special envoy to promote freedoms for religious minorities in the Middle East and Asia.

“Special help often means that religious minority groups need the opportunity . . . to get education; they need the opportunity to be able to get training [and] to get jobs,” Vessey explains in a statement sent to the Weekly.

The special envoy would be appointed by the president and report back to the president and the secretary of state. Vessey asks those who support the idea to contact their congressperson and voice support for the bill.

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