Recently it might appear that conditions have not been too bad for the Coptic Christians of Egypt.
President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi made a point of visiting the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo on Christmas Eve, and he has worked to foster good relations with Coptic Pope Tawadros II. He has spoken out on the need for Islam to reform itself.
Meanwhile, the horrific massacre in February of 21 Coptic Christians on a beach in Libya, by the barbarians of Islamic State, appeared to have outraged Egypt’s Christians and Muslims alike.
But look more closely and a different picture emerges. And looking more closely is exactly what John L. Allen Jr., author of “The Global War On Christians,” has just done, during a visit to Egypt.
In a report this month at the Boston Globe Media website “Crux,” he stated that his aim was to “reverse-engineer Stalin’s famous dictum that one death is a tragedy, while a million is a statistic.”
In other words, he was seeking out individual stories on the lives of the Coptic Christians in Egypt today. What he found was heart-rending.
For example, he met a Christian doctor who was kidnapped in Egypt’s Sinai region and held for 92 days, blindfolded and handcuffed, until his family paid a ransom.
According to Allen, this man was sometimes put in a car and driven around listening to verses from the Koran, while his captors beat him with a rubber hose for refusing to accept Islam.
Another encounter was with Ayman Samwel, a pharmacist and a member of the Zabbaleen, Cairo’s underclass of “garbage people” who are almost entirely Christian.
Allen wrote: “Last week Samwel was rousted from his bed by police at 3:00 am and dragged off to a station house, where he says he was beaten for four hours and subjected to verbal abuse about his faith. As Samwel describes it, it’s part of routine harassment of his community.”
For the past year the eyes of Christians have been focused on Iraq and Syria, and the horrors being perpetrated by Islamic State. But the eyes of many Mideast Muslims have also been focused on Islamic State, and its rhetoric and actions have seemingly emboldened them to step up their persecution of Christians.
Several months ago I wrote a commentary titled “More Christians, More Peace.” I quoted an American journalist who had just returned from his third visit to Iraq as affirming that real peace in the Middle East would require a sizeable Christian presence. “Where there are Christians in the world there is more peace,” he told me.
Allen reached a similar conclusion after his visit to Egypt. If Christians go down in Egypt, then they will go down across the entire region, he stated. And that will be the end for any realistic hope for pluralism, democracy and stability in the Middle East.
But – and this is my own opinion, not his – the outlook is not promising.