Freedom still a dream for Egypt’s Christians after attacks by military

RITE & REASON : ON SUNDAY, October 9th, Egypt’s military government launched an attack on Egyptian Christians (Copts) and some liberal Muslims who were peacefully demonstrating. They killed 24 people and seriously injured more than 300 Christians.

More than 150,000 demonstrators were marching not far from Tahrir Square because of the burning and destruction of their third church since the recent revolution.

Security guards dressed in civilian clothes took part in the massacre, as well as hired gangs who infiltrated the demonstrators and stoned soldiers. They responded by shooting at and running over people with heavy armoured vehicles in a barbaric attempt to crush the Copts.

At the same time, state television broadcast that the Copts were attacking the army and asked the good citizens of Egypt to rise and help the soldiers.

Thank God that did not work.

Between 332 BC, when Alexander conquered Egypt, and 1952, when Gamal Abdel Nasser led a military revolution, no Egyptian ruled Egypt. The drain of its wealth and oppression of its people happened under the rule of foreigners.

The Copts amount to 15-20 per cent of Egypt’s population. Originally they were called Gypts, as in Egypt, but were pronounced wrongly as “Copts”. They lived in the land of Egypt even before their ancestors built the pyramids.

The Pharaohs led world civilisation 5,000 years BC, building the pyramids, temples and pioneering engineering, medicine, the arts, agriculture and philosophy. They believed in a spiritual life and judgment day.

The people of Israel lived in Egypt for 430 years until they were led by Moses to the promised land. In 1450 BC, their 12 tribes had a population of over 3.5 million. The gospels tell us about the escape of the baby Jesus and the Holy Family to Egypt from the tyrant Herod.

St Mark the evangelist went to Egypt to establish the church and became its first martyr in AD 67. In Alexandria he established the first theological college, which attracted students from all over the world.

Under Roman occupation, many Christians were killed in Egypt until Emperor Constantine declared freedom of religion at Milan in AD 313. When peace came, the church prospered.

St Anthony started monastic life in the Egyptian desert to become the first monk in the world. Monasteries were built, attracting men such as St John Casian from France. Monasteries later spread throughout Europe and Asia.

The Egyptian deacon Athanasius wrote the Creed defending the divine nature of Jesus Christ after Arius denied the incarnation of the word of God.

In AD 641 Arabs invaded Egypt and imposed heavy taxes on Egyptians because of their Christian faith. After the Arabs, Mamluk and the Ottomans ruled Egypt, treating Christians badly.

From 1805 Muhammad Ali, of Albanian roots, ruled Egypt, which became independent of the Ottoman Empire. He cancelled taxes imposed on Christians and treated them like their Muslim brothers. Before his time Christians were not allowed to build any churches and repairing an old church needed a permit from the sultan.

In 1882 the British occupied Egypt and remained until 1952 when it was freed by Nasser, the first Egyptian to rule after thousands of years. Nasser developed Egypt and improved the lot of its poorest people.

The Suez Canal was nationalised (from the French) and the high dam in Aswan was built. However Nasser was a dictator and Egyptians wanted democracy.

Freedom is still a dream for Egyptians. Over the last four decades we have seen how hatred and violence have spread against Christians and their churches from both the regime and Islamic fundamentalists.

The Egyptians’ dream of freedom has come closer after the recent revolution. Freedom of religion, expression and media is what we need and this will happen not only in Egypt, but throughout the Middle East.

It will make the world a more peaceful place.