Egypt’s minorities, long persecuted, are counting on the U.S. president to defend religious freedom.
Islamic State’s local affiliate in Sinai claimed credit for the bombing of St. Peter and St. Paul’s Church in Cairo earlier this month. The group could not have chosen a more symbolic target. Erected in 1911, St. Peter’s was an architectural marvel built and decorated by Italian architects and mosaic artists.
It stood for a cosmopolitan Egypt that welcomed thousands of foreigners as its rulers sought to make it the Paris of the East. It captured the dreams and pains of the Boutros-Ghali family, which rose to power and financed the church’s construction after being emancipated from the shackles of dhimmitude. It represents what is now a bygone era.
Twenty-five worshipers, mostly women, died in the St. Peter’s blast. It is part of an ominous trend. Twenty Copts were killed by their neighbors during the 2000 New Year massacre in El Kosheh village. The Dec. 31, 2010, bombing of a church in Alexandria left 23 dead. The 2013 burning of more than 50 churches by Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators was the worst violence on Coptic churches since the 14th century. And the February 2015 beheading of 20 Coptic workers by Islamic State on the shores of Libya was the most horrifying incident for Copts in memory.
Egypt’s generals were no better, but one thing had changed—the possibility of emigration. The slow flow of Coptic emigrants from Egypt in the 1950s has turned into a tsunami. Based on my research, I estimate that more than a million Copts have found new permanent homes in the West, where their more than 500 churches now flourish.
The Egyptian revolution of 2011 accelerated the process. The security vacuum, the empowering of Islamists in villages, and the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to the presidency pointed to the coming doom. At their moment of desperation, many Copts placed their hopes, like those of other non-Islamist Egyptians, in army general Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Those hopes were misplaced.
President Sisi may be personally sympathetic to the Copts, but his government has done little to protect them. Deadly bombings capture the world’s attention for a moment, but daily life for Copts in Egypt is a struggle. Discrimination is rampant—from government appointments to soccer teams.
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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal