Throughout their history, which dates back to ancient times, Egyptian Coptic Christians have continuously been targeted for deadly violence by suspected Islamic radicals. It is a war that has left thousands of people dead and many others nursing lifelong injuries that remind them of how cruel fellow human beings can be.
Currently, the Copts make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 92 million population, which makes them the minority group in a country that is predominantly Islamic.
So who are they and why do they continue to suffer?
The word Coptic is an adaptation of the Greek term for “the indigenous people of Egypt,” which was initially the Greek description of the native Egyptian population in Roman Egypt. After the Muslim conquest of Egypt in 641 A.D., the word Coptic became restricted to only those Egyptians observing the Christian faith.
Therefore, Coptic literally refers to “Christian people of Egypt” or “Christian Egyptians,” one of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East. And although most Christians in Egypt have integrated with the larger Egyptian population, Copts continue to exist as a distinct religious community, aligning themselves with the apostolicity of the Egyptian Church whose founder, Saint Mark, was the first in a continuous chain of patriarchs.
Shortly after the ascension of Jesus Christ during the reign of the Roman Emperor Claudius, about 42 A.D., Saint Mark arrived in Alexandria, Egypt, and began spreading the gospel of Christ. By the beginning of the 3rd century A.D., Christians constituted the majority of the Egyptian population and the Church of Alexandria was recognized as one of Christendom’s four Apostolic Sees, second in honor only to the Church of Rome.
But since the aforementioned Muslim conquest, Christians in Egypt, especially the Copts, have continued to suffer at the hands of fellow countrymen, with the latest incident being the attack by armed militants on a Coptic Christian caravan in Minya province on May 26th.
On that fateful day, several gunmen, reportedly dressed in military fatigues, waved down a bus filled with Coptic pilgrims headed to a monastery in a desert in western Egypt and ordered the passengers out. They separated the men from women and children and instructed them to surrender their phones.
The men were then ordered to recite the Shahada, the Islamic declaration of faith, but they all refused, prompting the gunmen to open fire. At least 28 Copts were killed, with the majority of them being shot in the head.
This attack is part of a recent surge in coldblooded sectarian violence targeting the minority Christian community in Egypt that has left at least 100 people dead since December last year.
Why Kill Fellow Humans?
It is important to reiterate that Coptic Christians have been targeted for deadly religious violence throughout history, particularly during Emperor Byzantine’s reign and occasionally after the Muslim conquest around 641 A.D.
In 1000 A.D., an Islamic caliph is reported to have destroyed at least 3,000 Coptic churches and forced an unknown number of Copts to forsake their faith. This sectarian violence has continued throughout the years, with Coptic churches throughout Egypt being targeted by suicide bombers and gunmen. Homes belonging to Coptic Christians have also been set on fire and their proprieties looted.
While these attacks are largely associated with the ongoing global campaign against Christians by international Islamic terror groups, such as ISIS, continued attacks on Copts in Egypt have also been blamed on a lack of adequate political representation.
Currently, the Egyptian Parliament has only 36 Christians out of 596 members, and 24 of the Christian representatives were given the seats through a religion-based quota system.
When it comes to legal protection, the Egyptian law leaves Copts exposed to sectarian attacks since it declares Islam the state’s official religion and prohibits conversion to any other religion. There is also the Blasphemy Law, which has seen many Christians in the country jailed for speaking against Islam.
Although the Egyptian government has often strongly condemned these attacks, no decisive action has been taken against the perpetrators.
Now the question that everyone is asking is, for how long will innocent men, women, and children continue to die because of their faith?