The unrest in the Middle East arises largely, if not exclusively, from longstanding and bitter religious rivalries that often rise to the level of sheer hatred between the two dominant branches of Islam, the Sunnis and the Shias.
In great part, it is Muslim against Muslim, not just in Egypt where the Muslim Brotherhood now finds itself very much on the defensive, but in Syria, Iraq and Lebanon, among others. And the endless conflict between Israel and Palestine is, besides a fight for geographic dominance, a battle between two totally different religions.
But less attention has been paid — until recently, anyway — to the plight of Christians in the region. Since the Egyptian military ousted President Mohamed Morsi — who was strongly supported by the Muslim Brotherhood — gangs of Islamic extremists have been taking out their frustration on a convenient scapegoat, the nation’s Coptic Christians, who represent roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s population.
According to press reports, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leaders — who had previously renounced violence — are now urging the group’s members to wage a full-scale campaign of terror against the country’s Christian minority.
On Aug. 15, nine Egyptian human-rights groups declared that in December “Brotherhood leaders began fomenting anti-Christian sectarian incitement” and described how the anti-Coptic incitement and threats “morphed into sectarian violence.”
An Egyptian scholar with the Hudson Institute here in the United States described the new attacks as “the worst violence against the Coptic Church since the 14th century.”
Other press reports note that in the past week 40 Chrisitian churches were looted and torched and 23 others were attacked and heavily damaged. According to spokesmen for Coptic and Catholic churches, 160 Christian-owned buildings were also attacked.
In one town, it was reported, the Muslim extremists burned the local Franciscan school and then paraded three nuns through the streets, as if they were prisoners of war. They also ripped a cross off the school gate and replaced it with an Islamist flag. Another report described hundreds of Islamists “lashing out so ferociously that marble altars were left in broken heaps on the floor.”
It gets worse: Two security guards employed by a tour boat owned by Christians were burned alive. An orphanage was burned down. The Catholic Bishop of Luxor told the Vatican news agency last week he has been trapped in his home for 20 days by Islamist mobs chanting “Death to the Christians!”
“People who reside in the villages of the area that have nothing because food supplies are running out and people are afraid to leave the house,” he said. While Cairo is the focus of western press attention, it’s clear that the bloodletting is also happening in Egypt’s sprawling rural areas, far from the American television cameras.
Why did Egypt’s relatively few Christians become the target of these extremists? After all, there’s no evidence that they colluded in any way with the military that deposed Morsi, although it is true that most of them did agree with the removal of Morsi.
There were millions demonstrating in favor of removing the unpopular president, and even if Christians were in that group, they were vastly outnumbered by Muslims. In fact, far more Muslims than Christians opposed Morsi and even a respected Sunni Muslim cleric publicly supported the military’s decision to depose him.
There’s no simple American response to the Egyptian crisis (or, for that matter, the Syrian crisis). In fact, President Obama in particular and Americans in general have been blamed by all sides in the Egyptian conflict, as if the situation is their fault.
Meanwhile, the Christians suffer.
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