By Martin Roth
Conditions for Christians in Libya were bad enough while Colonel Gaddafi was in power. Now that he’s gone things are getting worse. Possibly the only consolation is that there are so few Christians in the country to be persecuted.
At the end of 2012 a bomb attack on a Coptic church in the town of Dafniya killed two worshippers. According to a report:
Since most of Libya’s Christians are not only a religious minority but also of foreign origin, they are doubly threatened by this rise of militant extremism in the country. Karim Bitar, a Paris-based analyst, told Agence France-Presse that the latest attack in Dafniya has given Libya’s Christians an “existential crisis.” “The worry is that Christians in Libya … will be but the first to suffer from the Libyan central government’s endemic weakness [and] the proliferation of armed militias,” he said.
Now comes news that other religious communities are under attack:
The situation was “critical” and the “atmosphere very tense” in the Cyrenaica region, the Apostolic Vicar of Tripoli Giovanni Innocenzo Martinelli said in the interview on Thursday. He said two religious communities are leaving “after being pressured by fundamentalists”, adding that the Apostolic Vicar of Benghazi was cautioned to take shelter ahead of a large-scale demonstration on 20 February.
“In past days, the Congregation of the Holy Family of Spoleto who had been there for nearly 100 years were forced to abandon Derna,” east of the main eastern city of Benghazi, he said. “In Barce [located between Benghazi and Derna] the Franciscan Sisters of the Child Jesus will leave their home in coming days.”
On Friday, Martinelli told Vatican Radio that for some time now fundamentalism has governed decisions in Libya. Christians have voiced fear of a rise in sectarian sentiment in the overwhelmingly Muslim nation following the 2011 revolt that toppled dictator Muammar Gaddafi and in which hard-line Islamists played a major part.
Before the uprising, 3% of Libya’s population of around 6.3 million were Christian. Now only a couple thousand of them remain, with the majority of them expatriates.