by Lela Gilbert
October 14, 2020
“We are the Church of Martyrs” is a phrase heard over and over in conversations with young Copts,” writes Martin Mosebach, author of the profound and powerful book, The 21: A Journey into the Land of Coptic Martyrs. He provides a detailed portrait of each of the 21 men who died on a Libyan beach—all but one Egyptian, beheaded by ISIS on February 15, 2015.
“It is the honorary title of the Coptic Church but has also been undeniably prophetic. For throughout history, the Copts have been given countless opportunities to maintain their status as just that: a fellowship of martyrs.”
So it was in 2015 for those faithful Christian men who refused to deny their faith at the cost of their lives, and so the threat remains today in their homeland.
Although some international observers, such as USCIRF, have noted that Christian persecution in Egypt seems to have diminished somewhat in recent years, they are also obliged to note that it most certainly has not disappeared. On Friday, October 9, Premier Christian News reported, “A mob of extremists have attacked the homes of Coptic Christians in the Egyptian village of Dabous. The attack occurred after a wedding taking place in a neighboring village was interrupted by two young Muslim extremists, who bullied and beat a 10-year-old Coptic Christian child.”
The beating of an innocent child was too much to bear for the those who watched. International Christian Concern explained, “Some Christian adults subsequently confronted the two attackers. Mina, a 25-year-old resident of the village, explained to ICC, ‘The cause of the story was that two Muslim men who don’t belong to our village beat a young Coptic kid. The Coptic men didn’t accept that.’ The confrontation became violent and resulted in the Muslim individuals receiving injuries.”
Unsurprisingly, the upheaval continued into the next day, when the Muslim men retaliated. Before the dust settled, there had been extensive property damage and many wounds. There were calls for a “reconciliation” meeting, a sort of false attempt at diplomacy in which both sides of a dispute are called upon to bear equal responsibility for the harm done. Meanwhile, the guilty parties are never required to pay the price for their initial provocation.
Open Doors’ World Watch explains, “Many Egyptian Christians encounter substantial roadblocks to living out their faith. There are violent attacks that make news headlines around the world, but there are also quieter, more subtle forms of duress that burden Egyptian believers. Particularly in rural areas in northern Egypt, Christians have been chased from villages, and subject to mob violence and intense familial and community pressure. This is even more pronounced for Christians who are converts from Islam.”
Clearly illustrated by the recent story about Dabous, Egyptian males are often responsible for various assaults and violent outbursts. But all too often, it is Christian females who pay the highest price for their faith. And far too many continue to suffer in silence.
As I have reported elsewhere, Egypt’s Christian girls and women continue to face a silent epidemic of kidnapping, rape, beatings, and torture. Innumerable girls and women vanish forever, and even if they are somehow rescued, their stories are thought to be so shameful that they’re hidden as dark family secrets. Sometimes doctors are able to quietly repair internal damage and “restore virginity” to the abused. Priests, if made aware of the situation, may try to protect family reputations when the girls return.
But the devastated survivors will never be the same.
The attacks vary—some happen randomly, when a vulnerable female is spotted walking alone on a sidewalk. Other are plotted by Islamist consortiums, who pay kidnappers as much $3,000 per girl. The assailants rape the victims, hold them in captivity, then demand that the terrified young women convert to Islam—often violently abusing them until they surrender.
For more years than can be counted, it has remained true that Egypt’s Copts belong to a “fellowship of martyrdom.” Not all of them are murdered—like those beheaded on a distant beach, or blown apart in bombed churches. But too many Christians have lost the life they once knew—whether it has been stolen by fanatical kidnappers, or violated by thugs, or simply reduced to a struggle for survival by constant threats of Islamist violence.