Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Hundreds of Christian Copts Fleeing Democratic Egypt

From Al Masry al-Youm:

Since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak in February, many Coptic Christians have begun making plans to leave the country, fearing instability and the rising power of Islamist political groups.

Lawyers who specialize in working with Coptic Egyptians, who account for around 10 per cent of the country’s 80 million citizens, say that in the past few weeks they have received hundreds of calls from Copts wanting to leave Egypt.

Naguib Gabriel, a prominent Coptic lawyer and head of the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights, said his office had been receiving at least 70 calls per week from people wanting to know how they can emigrate.

“Every day people come to me and ask how they can get to the American or Canadian embassies. They are insisting on leaving Egypt because the risks of staying here are too great," Gabriel said.

“We’re at a crossroads,” he added. “Many Christians are afraid of the future because of the fanatics in the mosques.”

At least 15 people, Christians and Muslims, were killed last month in a chain of violence which erupted because of a relationship between a Coptic man and Muslim woman in a village south of Cairo. At least 10 people were killed in similar clashes in the Cairo neighborhood of Moqattam in March.

In recent days there have also been clashes involving the Salafi movement -- a hard-line, literalist Islamic sect that has recently been flexing its political muscle throughout Egypt.

According to recent reports, a Coptic service center in Cairo was closed down last month after being picketed by Salafis, while fights broke out in the Fayoum Governorate south of the capital after the sect tried to force the closure of a shop selling alcohol.

It all seems a far cry from the days when demonstrators in Tahrir Square were declaring, “Muslims and Christians are one hand."

Sam Fanous, who runs a company helping Egyptians emigrate and settle in Canada, said that over the past month his office had been “bombarded” with requests from Copts who wanted help in leaving the country.

“I have people coming to my Cairo office until midnight. Often I tell my assistant to shut down the phones because we have so many people calling,” he said. “The majority of people want to emigrate. Some ask about asylum, but I explain they cannot get refugee status from Egypt.”

Fanous said most of the people coming to him were well-off professionals.

“Some want to go and not come back. Some want to take their families and then come back until it becomes time to leave," he said.

Some details:

In the last two weeks three attacks on churches were undertaken by Salafis or Islamic Fundamentalists in Egypt. The Salafis demanded churches move to locations outside communities and be forbidden from making repairs, "even if they are so dilapidated that the roofs will collapse over the heads of the congregation," says Father Estephanos Shehata of Samalut Coptic Diocese.
On Sunday March 27 nearly 500 Salafis, armed with swords, batons and knives, stood in front of St. Mary's church in the Bashtil district of Imbaba, Giza demanding its closure because "this is a Muslim area and no church should be allowed here." They closed the church door and held a number of the parishioners inside, including children. The terrorized Copts called the army to get them out, especially the children, who were traumatized. The military police arrived, freed the congregation and dispersed the Muslim mob, who lurked nearby "to see if they need to attack again in case the Copts returned to the church," said a Coptic witness.

St. George's Church in Beni Ahmad, 7 KM south of Minya was also subjected to Muslim intimidation. The 100 year-old church received three years ago an official permit from Minya governorate allowing for the expansion of its eastern side as well as the erection of a social services center within a small plot of land belonging to the church. Three Salafis together with a large crowd of village Muslims visited the church on Wednesday, March 23 and ordered the church officials to stop construction immediately and undo what they had completed, otherwise they would demolish the church after Friday prayers. They also demanded the church priest, Father Georgy Thabet, leave the village with his family.

...The Diocese stepped-in and contacted the authorities who in turn asked them to contact the military governor. A meeting was held between representatives from the church, the Salafis, the army and security in Minya. The Salafis requested the demolition of what was built and the departure of the priest and his family. In the end the military told the Copts they cannot interfere in this case. "In other words the authorities have sold the Copts to the Salafis, to do what they like with them and the church," commented local Coptic activist Mariam Ragy.

Catholic Online adds:

People are anxious to know where this wild ride will end. They are anxious because what happens to the Copts will signal the fate of many others. The Copts are the largest religious minority in the region, and Egypt holds a certain preeminence in the region. Consequently, if it does not end well for the Copts, it is not likely to go well for other Christians throughout the region. Unfortunately, at this point all we know for certain is that life for the Copts in Egypt after Mubarak hangs in the balance.

The Salafis are also attacking Sufi mosques:

16 historic mosques in Alexandria belonging to Sufi orders have been marked for destruction by Salafis. The newspaper notes that Alexandria has 40 mosques associated with Sufis, and is the headquarters for 36 Sufi groups. Half a million Sufis live in the city, out of a municipal total of four million people.

Aggression against the Sufis in Egypt has included a raid on Alexandria's most distinguished mosque, named for, and housing, the tomb of the 13th century Sufi, al-Mursi Abu'l Abbas. Born in the then-Muslim city of Murcia in southeastern Spain, al-Mursi emigrated to Alexandria. He was a disciple of and successor to the Sufi sheikh Abu'l Hassan al-Shadhili, founder of the powerful Shadhili Sufi order, which remains influential throughout north Africa, south Asia, the Muslim communities of the Indian Ocean, and Indonesia.

Salafis have alleged that Sufis are agents of the west as well as heretics. The extremists want to take control of Sufi mosques, after they destroy shrines within their precincts. One object of their manoeuvres is the Qaed Ibrahim mosque in Alexandria, which was the site of mass protests, involving thousands of people, co-ordinated with those in Cairo's Tahrir Square, during the movement against ex-president Hosni Mubarak.

The Alexandrian Sufi leader sheikh Gaber Kasem al-Kholy has said: "Coptic Christians are a main target for those extremists, but we need to speak out about the suffering of the Sufi people. We have a considerable number of followers, and we are willing and able to protect Egypt's legacy."

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