Egypt's Copts and the Myth of Islamic Tolerance
Egypts Coptic Christians: The Experience of the Middle Easts largest Christian community during a time of rising Islamization
July 18, 2008, 12:00 - 2:00 PM - Hudson Institute, Washington, D.C. Headquarters
Bishop Thomas and Nina Shea - The Center for Religious Freedom - recently held a luncheon discussion by Bishop Thomas of Upper Egypt.
His Grace, Bishop Thomas of the El-Qussia and Mair Diocese in Upper Egypt became a monk in 1983 and was ordained a priest in 1987. Bishop Thomas works tirelessly to strengthen religious freedom and human rights in the face of personal risks. He was the first recipient of the St. Stephen Prize, a human rights award given by The Norwegian Mission to the East, for his efforts to speak out against the oppression of religious communities. Bishop Thomas is active in building schools and developing educational programs in Egypt's Coptic Church. In 1999 he built the Anaphora Farm and Retreat Center in Wadi el-Natrun, where many of the monastic communities of the desert fathers lived 1500 years ago.
In Egypt the government does not officially recognize conversions from Islam to Christianity; also certain interfaith marriages are not allowed either, this prevents marriages between converts to Christianity and those born in Christian communities, and also results in the children of Christian converts being classified as Muslims and given a Muslim education.
The government also requires permits for repairing churches or building new ones, which are often withheld. Foreign missionaries are allowed in the country only if they restrict their activities to social improvements and refrain from proselytizing.
The Coptic Pope Shenouda III was internally exiled in 1981 by President Anwar Sadat, who then chose five Coptic bishops and asked them to choose a new pope. They refused, and in 1985 President Hosni Mubarak restored Pope Shenouda III, who had been accused of fomenting interconfessional strife. Particularly in Upper Egypt, the rise in extremist Islamist groups such as the Gama'at Islamiya during the 1980s was accompanied by attacks on Copts and on Coptic churches;
these have since declined with the decline of those organizations, but still continue. The police have been accused of siding with the attackers in some of these cases. And in Southern Egypt, there were problems in which involves terrorists going into monastaries, harrassing, capturing, and torturing monks (such as the 2008 attacks on the monks of the Monastery of Saint Fana).