Persecution, Kidnapping and Forced Conversions of Christians in Egypt

The latest outrage in Egypt has been, like all the others, almost universally ignored by the international media and human rights groups. Wafaa Constantine Messiha, wife of a Coptic priest in Egypt, was abducted by jihadist Muslims and forced to convert to Islam. The Mubarak regime has done nothing. This is no isolated incident: Wilfred Wong of the Jubilee Campaign, a Christian human rights group, notes that “the attempts to force Christians to convert to Islam in Egypt are on the increase and the methods are getting increasingly varied and well organized. Some of these forced conversions are carried out by Muslim individuals, with the help of their friends, while others are being conducted by well funded groups.”

The situation has gotten so bad for Copts in Egypt that Pope Shenouda III, the leader of the Coptic Church, recently spoke out boldly about one common method of abduction and forced conversion: “I have received so many letters about what’s happening to the Christian girls who go to supermarket stores to shop. At the store they tell them that they have won and have to go upstairs to receive their award or prize. After that we don’t know what’s happening to these girls upstairs. There is a lot of talking going on about this matter, and I see that what’s happening will create a religious clash in the country. I’m urging the police to take a serious action against what’s happening.”

But the police did nothing, and the Copts are getting increasingly fed up. According to Emil Zaki of the U.S. Copts Association, “The situation in Egypt is exploding every minute for the last three days. Muslims are regularly attacking Copts, and they kidnapped the wife of a priest to force her to convert to Islam.” Three thousand demonstrators gathered last Sunday and Monday in four Egyptian provinces to protest the Mubarak regime’s inaction in the Wafaa Constantine Messiha case and its general indifference to the persecution of the Copts. Says Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association: “Mubarak’s regime has not only ignored, but in many cases contributed to the alarming increase in anti-Coptic violence.”

Actions against Christians not only in Egypt, but all over the Middle East, are usually ascribed these days to anti-U.S. sentiment in the wake of the invasion of Iraq — when they’re reported at all. But such incidents are far older than the U.S. presence in Iraq; they have been going on for decades, even centuries. According to the Jubilee Campaign, in the late 1990s Coptic Christians uncovered evidence of houses in which “different teams of Muslims were working to pressure or force Christians to convert to Islam.” They found “a very organized and systematic approach by these Muslims to waylaying and forcing Egyptian Christians to convert to Islam.”

This is just one manifestation of the discrimination and harassment that Christians and other non-Muslims still face all over the Islamic world. Even though the laws of many Muslim-majority nations guarantee equality of rights and freedom of conscience, in practice Christians face discrimination and harassment — and even, on occasion, penalties derived from Sharia, Islamic law. Sometimes the secular law gives way to Sharia even if Sharia is not on the books. One notorious example was the case of Robert Hussein Qambar Ali, a Kuwaiti who converted from Islam to Christianity in the 1990s. He was arrested and tried for apostasy, even though the Kuwaiti Constitution guarantees the freedom of religion and says nothing about the traditional Islamic prohibition on conversion to another faith. One of Hussein’s prosecutors explained: “With grief I have to say that our criminal law does not include a penalty for apostasy. The fact is that the legislature, in our humble opinion, cannot enforce a penalty for apostasy any more or less than what our Allah and his messenger have decreed. The ones who will make the decision about his apostasy are: our Book, the Sunna, the agreement of the prophets and their legislation given by Allah.”

As Islamic radicalism increases, Muslims grow increasingly less tolerant toward their non-Muslim neighbors. But the world continues to take no notice, either of poor Wafaa Constantine Messiha or of the larger situation. The “white man’s burden” of colonial days has now been reversed, such that in the conceptual framework of the UN and the international media, only Westerners can do evil, and Christians cannot possibly play the role of victim. The sooner the world casts off these blinkered Chomskyite/Saidist fantasies, the better off we’ll all be.