Yesterday, Palm Sunday, instead of watching children dressed in their Sunday best for Church, I watched Coptic parents in Egypt look for body parts. Someone on Facebook went live just minutes after the church was bombed by the ISIS, also called Daesh or IS. A suicide bomber managed to get inside the St. George Cathedral in the city of Tanta. He blew himself up at the altar-27 dead and 78 injured. Two hours later, another suicide bomber blew himself up just outside St. Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria-17 dead and 48 injured.
Today, I edited a video from one of the funerals. It’s devastating beyond words. Attached to the video that I posted under my personal Facebook account, I wrote:
"Dear Coptic grandmothers, mothers, wives, sisters and daughters. Your tears are our tears. The black clothes you wear are felt in the depths of our souls. Your cries pierce our hearts.”
I also asked my followers to watch the video, to witness the fear, the horror and the sorrow in the eyes of the Coptic people. Furthermore, I wrote that all reporters, politicians and others that should have been feeding the alarm regarding the situation for Christians in Egypt, but they chose not to. For that, they should be ashamed. Swedish editorial reporter, Ivar Arpi, who works for ”Svenska Dagbladet” (Swedish Daily News) wrote in the Summer of 2013 about the imbalance in reporting from the Middle East. He researched how many times Coptics, Assyrians, and Syriacs had been mentioned in the major Swedish newspapers since 2000, 13 years of reporting. The results were pitiful. Copts had been mentioned 422 times, Assyrians 783 and Syriacs 557. Not to take away the suffering of the Palestinians, but they were mentioned 21,408 times, according to Arpi. Add to that, that there are two professional football (soccer) teams in Sweden with the name of Assyriska and Syrianska, meaning Assyrian and Syriac, which probably accounted some of the articles. Another important fact when it comes to the lack of exposure on these communities is that many of the articles are written by a single person…me.
Film maker Jordan Allott and Helma Adde who is also a representative of A Demand For Action (ADFA), the same NGO that I am a volunteer for, are traveling the world to screen their film Our Last Stand. The award-winning documentary has been shown in the UN, European Parliament, and many national ones like the British, the Swedish and the Dutch. Helma Adde left her secure life in New York to become an eyewitness of the genocide against Christian Assyrians/Chaldeans/Syriacs in Iraq and Syria. She made sure a voice was being given to the victims. A voice that, according to Arpi’s research from 2013, was missing not only in the Swedish press, but it was also absent in American, German and British media.
Today, Ivar Arpi was on the subject again. In an important report entitled, ”Their Only Crime is Their Christian Belief,” he describes in detail the situation of Egyptian Coptic Christians.
“The attacks towards the Copts have increased lately. A suicide bomber murdered 25 Christians in the St. Peter and Paul Church in Cairo in December, of which 23 were women. In February, hundreds of Christians were driven out from the Sinai in an intense murder campaign executed by Islamists. This is not the kind of terror that hits a whole country – it specifically targets Christians.“
Arpi asks the question many have asked for decades:
“Whom can the Christians turn to? The security forces are either too weak or too uninterested to stop the violence. The outside world is occupied with other things.”
Samuel Tadros, scholar of Middle Eastern Studies at the Hudson Institute, has written “Motherland Lost: The Egyptian and Coptic quest for modernity” (Hoover Institution Press, 2013). He explains in an interview that 90 percent of his Facebook friends ask him how they can leave the country. “Not everyone will leave, but everyone is contemplating it,” says Samuel Tadros. “My parents have nobody left to take care of them”. Out of his own Coptic family, half of them live outside of Egypt. There were two Coptic churches in the US in 1970. In 2012, the number had increased to 202. That speaks volumes.
Ivar Arpi rases something very important in his report; Copts in Egypt do not dare speak about the persecution.
“If you ask the Copts in Egypt about this, they will not talk about it. They do not want to come across as disloyal. Then the hate and violence will flare up again.
There is always an excuse to kill Christians in Egypt. It is not necessarily Islamists. A rumor is enough to activate a huge lynch mob.”
I would like to thank Ivar Arpi. I think most researchers and experts on Coptic Christian persecution would agree with everything he writes. Take this passage, for example:
A Christian man can be accused of seducing a Muslim woman. An unforgivable transgression, according to most Muslims in Egypt. No Egyptian Muslims are comfortable with the idea of their daughter marrying a Christian man (Pew Research Center, 2013). During the unrest, seven Coptic homes were burnt down. Soad Thabet, a 70-year old woman, was stripped naked, beaten and dragged through the streets by a mob of 300 Muslim men. In January the perpetrators were acquitted, even though she had identified three of them. Her son is still accused of having had an affair with a Muslim woman.
The thought of a Muslim woman marrying a Christian man is taboo. But Coptic women and girls are kidnapped on a regular basis. Sometimes they are used in trafficking. More often they are forced to convert to Islam and forced to marry. Some of the women are already married, others are in their teens. After a forced conversion to Islam, it is almost impossible to regain the status of Christian. 86 percent of Muslim Egyptians think that the death penalty should be applied to those who leave Islam (Pew 2013). Some of the Coptic women have taken Muslim names to prevent rape and kidnapping. For the same reason, Christian women feel obliged to wear the hijab.
Can the Copts continue to live in Egypt? Can Christians at all survive in the Middle East? In remembrance of Jesus triumphantly entering Jerusalem on a donkey, Palm Sunday was celebrated yesterday. Two thousand years later, the history of Christianity may have come to an end in the region.
One question remains, a question that never leaves me: Why is the world not interested in the persecution of Christians in most of the predominantly Arab/Muslim world?
*Nathan Kalasho and Ann Kristin Sandlund also contributed to this report