A spike in attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, spurred by a video threat from ISIS, has drawn the prayers and concern of advocates, who are urging global leaders to take notice.
“Americans need to know that one of the oldest Christian communities in the world is under threat from being completely pushed out of Egypt,” which would be disastrous both for Egypt and for Christianity itself, Philippe Nassif, executive director of the advocacy group In Defense of Christians, told CNA.
“We pray for those suffering terrorism and violence, for God to grant them peace and reassurance that they are not forgotten by Him or by all those who not only witness their plight but strive to advocate for them,” His Grace Bishop Angaelos, general bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said Tuesday.
There have been 40 reported murders of Christians in Egypt in the last three months, Bishop Angaelos said in a recent statement, “culminating in the most recent murders of seven Christians in Al-Arish,” the largest city in the country’s Sinai region.
Twenty-nine were killed in a bombing at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in December. The Islamic State took credit for the bombing and released a video threatening to target Christian “crusaders” in Egypt.
“Oh crusaders in Egypt, this attack that struck you in your temple is just the first with many more to come, God willing,” they said.
Since the video’s release, more Christians have been killed in Egypt and hundreds have reportedly fled their homes in the Sinai region in the north of the country after several murders there, the group In Defense of Christians claimed.
Many of these Sinai residents are “very poor,” Nassif said, and have fled to churches, Coptic charities, or to relatives’ homes.
Bishop Angaelos insisted that “the one common denominator is that these innocent children, women and men have had their lives brutally and tragically ended for no other reason except that they are Christians,” noting that written threats have been left in villages “urging Christians to ‘leave or die’.”
The current Egyptian government has condemned the attacks and in the past has pledged to protect embattled Christian minorities in the country, but Christians still suffer most in rural areas outside the capital of Cairo where the national government has lesser oversight.
“The security situation in Sinai itself has just deteriorated dramatically in the past year,” Nassif said, in the area with a “large Christian presence.”
“The ISIS affiliates in the Sinai are basically using a really poor economic situation, and they’re taking advantage of a very difficult geographic area” to target Christians, he said, many of whom have been killed “in lone wolf attacks” intended to instill fear in the rest of the Christian population and drive them out.
“Their goal is to really create real deep anxiety among all the Christians in Egypt, and to sow this sort of narrative that they were part of this sort of counter-coup against the Muslim Brotherhood,” he continued.
The international community must take notice of this persecution, which has “gone largely unnoticed,” Bishop Angaelos stressed.
“In our fast moving world that is filled with so much news of tragedy, war and death, it is all too easy for atrocities to become ‘incidents,’ and for individuals suffering them to become mere statistics, very quickly pushed aside by the next item of news,” he stated.
“In the eyes of the perpetrators they are a viable target, and in the eyes of the world they become a regrettable phenomenon; yet what is actually left behind are traumatized individuals, families and communities that have lost loved ones, living the reality of themselves being targeted.”
In Defense of Christians is asking the U.S. government to advocate that Egypt “prioritize the protection of the Coptic community.”
Catholics must not only pray for the victims of these attacks, but also for those in the government charged with protecting them, and for the perpetrators, Bishop Angaelos insisted.
“We also pray for those in positions of authority and influence that they may be advocates for all those entrusted into their care. Finally, and not of least importance we pray for those who perpetrate these crimes, that they once again become conscious of the true value of every life that appears to be dispensable in their eyes.”