The BBC reports that Pope Tawadros of the Coptic Orthodox Church (below) has cancelled his weekly public Bible study because he fears for the safety of his audience. At these weekly gatherings, Tawadros takes questions on Bible passages from a congregation gathered inside St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. Since the fall of the Morsi government, however, threats have increased against Copts throughout Egypt. In one incident recently, someone raised an al-Qaeda flag outside a Coptic church while people worshipped inside. A large public gathering at Cairo’s main cathedral might provide too tempting a target.
Things have been bad for Copts for some time. Even under Mubarak, Copts complained that the state failed to protect them from sectarian violence. The situation has worsened, however, in the weeks following the fall of the Morsi government. Several Copts have been murdered and scores injured. “We had never experienced the kind of persecution we suffer now,” one Copt from the south of Egypt, a pharmacist and mother of two, recently told the AP. “We are insulted every day.”
Traditionally, Copts avoided Egyptian politics. That changed during the Arab Spring. Copts were prominent in the protests that led to the overthrow of Mubarak and vocal in protesting their treatment under the Muslim Brotherhood. Then, Pope Tawadros appeared in that famous TV broadcast announcing the overthrow of the Morsi regime–along with the leader of Al-Azhar, it should be pointed out–to voice his support for the military. His appearance seems to have exposed Copts to even more danger than usual. Pointing to the broadcast, Islamists now allege that the overthrow of Morsi was a Christian-orchestrated plot against Islam.
I’ve written before about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East and the lack of interest among American elites, even in the human rights community. But the situation for Copts has become truly dire, and Americans are beginning to take notice. There isn’t too much the US can do to help, unfortunately. Expressions of support for Mideast Christians can easily backfire. As Nina Shea has argued, however, America can do more to ensure that humanitarian assistance actually reaches Mideast Christians–in Syria, for example. And the US can fast-track asylum applications from Copts and other Mideast Christians in order to provide a haven for those who wish to leave. This last option isn’t a great solution, as it would only accelerate the depopulation of Christian communities in the Middle East. But leaving these Christians to their fate shouldn’t be an option, either.