By Michael Ireland
In a pattern that follows the exodus of Christians from several Middle Eastern countries, a new report says that at least 100,000 Coptic believers have left Egypt in recent months, especially since the uprising which resulted in the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations (EUHRO) has published a report on emigration of Christians from Egypt, saying that nearly 100,000 Christians have emigrated since March 2011, according to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA).
The report, which was sent to the Egyptian cabinet and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), warned that this emigration has been prompted by the escalating intimidation and attacks on Christians by Islamists.
“Copts are not emigrating abroad voluntarily,” said Naguib Gabriel, the director EUHRO, “they are coerced into that by threats and intimidation of hard line Salafists, and the lack of protection they are getting from the Egyptian regime.”
The majority of Copts have emigrated to the US, with about 16,000 settling in California, 10,000 in New Jersey, 8000 in New York, and 8000 in other American states. Nearly 14,000 have gone to Australia, 17,000 to Canada, and 20,000 to the Netherlands, Italy, England, Austria, Germany and France.
EUHRO warned that emigration of Christians out of Egypt will threaten its demographic makeup and national economy.
“Copts constitute a strong pillar in the economy,” said Gabriel, “Copts who are leaving their homeland are not prompted by their need for work, as they are from the professional and business class, but from fear of the hard line Salafists.”
Attacks on Copts and their religious institutions have spread fear, according to Gabriel.
“Recent attacks included the killing of Coptic youths in Moqattam and Embaba, cutting-off the ear of a Copt, attacks on churches, as well as preventing the governor of Qena from occupying his post because he is Christian,” Gabriel said.
AINA goes on to say the EUHRO report noted that Coptic emigration escalated since March 19, 2011, after the constitutional amendments in Egypt and the escalation in Salafist attacks on Copts and their intention to implement Hudud laws (Sharia based punishments, which include capital punishment by sword/crucifixion, stoning, amputation and flogging).
“Salafist clerics, who gained political influence after the January 25 Revolution, have become emboldened,” said Gabriel, “calling Copts Dhimmis who have to pay the jizya (tax paid by non-Muslims to the state) because they are not first class citizens and can never enjoy full citizenship rights, or obtain sensitive posts.”
On September 12, Yasser Borhami, Head of Alexandria Salafists, accused Christians on a popular TV show of being “Infidels, who live in darkness, because they are away from Islam,” according to AINA.
His interview enraged Copts “who regarded it as a license to kill the Christians by inciting Muslims,” said Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub.
EUHRO filed a complaint against Borhami with the Prosecutor General, accusing him of “defaming a heavenly religion,” which is against the constitution and which would “endanger social peace.”
Gabriel sees a parallel with the Christian emigration from Iraq, Palestine and Lebanon.
“After the massacre of the congregation of Our Lady of Deliverance Church on October 31, 2010, and other attacks in Iraq, the ratio of Iraqi Christians went down from 8 percent to 2 percent. In Palestine to just 0.5 percent, and in Lebanon from 75 percent to 32 percent.”
“If emigration of Christians, who constitute nearly 16 percent of the Egyptian population, continues at the present rate, it may reach 250,000 by the end of 2011,” said Gabriel, “and within ten years a third of the Coptic population of Egypt would be gone.”
According to Gabriel, Coptic Christians see a dark future awaiting them in Egypt, especially because neither SCAF nor the government is taking any measures to curb the Salafist violence.
“They should bring to justice those criminals who attack the Copts and their churches, instead of letting them get off Scot-free,” he said.
He called on SCAF to pull in the reins on Salafists and to clearly announce that Egypt is a democratic, secular state, based on equal citizenship for all Egyptians.