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Update on Egypt

Religious violence (how strange and sad that such a term exists) is horrible whoever is the perpetrator. Most recently, it was extremist Muslims in Egypt. Here is an update from a friend, Paul-Gordon Chandler, who serves in Egypt. It always helps to have on-the-ground reports from people you trust ...

On New Year's Eve, just after midnight, a bomb exploded outside a church in Alexandria, Egypt just as worshipers were beginning to leave the church. 21 were instantly killed (four others died later) and more than 90 were seriously wounded. Since the terrible explosion last October in a Catholic Church in Baghdad, El-Qaeda terrorists in Iraq have threatened to attack churches in Egypt as well. Despite increased security by Egyptian police at the more than 3000 churches in Egypt, with thousands of worshippers entering and exiting services, it is humanly impossible to prevent ill-intentioned incidents like that in Alexandria on New Year’s Eve.

Due to the media showing quite horrific pictures of those who were killed in the attack, many frustrated Christians across the county took to the streets in anger and significant violence. Many have a sense that they are discriminated against as a minority, and the incidents of attacks on Christians in the past few years, and the general economic crisis, all have built up frustration which, when sparked by this tragedy, finally erupts.

All church leaders are distressed by the violence and anger expressed by mobs of “so-called Christians” around the country at this time and have been working hard to calm and restrain this mob reaction, which is against the spirit of forgiveness and peace. Also, the majority of Muslims have expressed deep sorrow about what happened in Alexandria. Last night, Thursday, the night of Feast of the Epiphany (January 6th), the Coptic Christians across Egypt celebrated Eastern Christmas. While many people were afraid, church attendance this Christmas Eve was most probably greater than ever before. Also, there is a considerable movement throughout Egypt among Muslims to stand in solidarity with the Christians at this time, and many Muslims therefore attended the services with Christians, to show unity with them and to send a message to terrorists that if they attack churches they will be harming Muslims as well as Christians. Christmas Eve is also the time when the Muslim government officials (Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, City officials) attend services with Christians to share with them in their feast. Hundreds of Muslim government officials were at Coptic churches last night.

To help give some context, here is a little overview of the situation of Christians in Egypt. The Christian minority (up to 12%) in Egypt is unique in that it represents a remnant of the original Egyptians (descendents of the pharaohs). In spite of the discrimination felt by many Christians here, and in spite of the many limitations they experience and the perception of some that they are "second class" citizens, many Christian business persona have thrived with the new free market economy brought in by President Sadat in the early seventies, and it is estimated that they now control nearly 30% of Egypt's wealth.

Many churches in Egypt are flourishing with plans to expand their facilities to accommodate the growing numbers of weekly worshipers. In spite of the great difficulty in getting permission to build new churches, many new church buildings are opened every year. And Christian ministries of all sorts are also booming, with expanded programs and modern facilities to help accomplish their activities.

So while often Christians in Egypt experience hardship as a minority, they are nevertheless a thriving community. One of the primary challenges at this time is the escalating tension within the country between the vocal advocates of an Islamic State (which would undoubtedly be more restrictive than at present) and the majority moderate Muslims and Christians who are working peacefully within the present legal system for a more balanced democracy which respects human rights for all. In response to this tragedy, coalitions are being formed between the faith communities and actions are being planned to seek ways to increase solidarity, to bring greater peace to the nation and to ensure full citizenship be applied to all Egyptians.

Here's an additional story about peace-loving Muslims serving as "human shields" to protect their Christian neighbors from violence-loving Muslims. I wonder how many of us Christians are ready to put ourselves in harm's way for our Muslim neighbors?