One of the intolerable ironies of the liberation of Iraq and the Arab Spring is that Christians in some Muslim countries are now less safe than they were under brutal dictators. The killing of Coptic Christians this week in Egypt is just the latest outrage.
The U.S. State Department needs to step up its pressure on these governments to protect Christians and other minorities.
The Christians in Egypt were conducting a peaceful march in Cairo to protest the recent burning of a church by a fundamentalist Muslim group and to call for greater government protection against anti-Christian attacks. But they were attacked by gangs and run over by speeding military vehicles. At least 26 people died and several hundred were injured.
Coptic Christians suffered like most everyone did when Hosni Mubarak was president of Egypt. But since his ouster earlier this year, they have been openly targeted by Muslim extremists. As a result, 100,000 Christians have fled Egypt since March, and 250,000 are expected to leave before the end of this year, according to the Egyptian Federation of Human Rights.
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Iraq is even worse. More than half of Iraqi Christians have fled the country since the U.S. invasion, according to a State Department report last year. And the persecution and attacks on Christians have increased in recent years.
Last October, for example, terrorists bombed a Catholic cathedral in Baghdad, killing 58 Christians and injuring at least 60. The next month, militants detonated 11 bombs in Christian suburbs across Baghdad, targeting shops and homes, according to the watchdog group The Voice of the Martyrs.
Responding to this week’s attacks, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Egypt’s leaders to not just focus on holding elections but to also “get back to protecting peaceful assembly, freedom of worship, the kinds of basic rights that make up democratic values.” But the State Department didn’t list Egypt among the “countries of particular concern” in its recently released Annual Report on International Religious Freedom — even though the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom recommended that it do so.
Persecution of Christians in fundamentalist Muslim countries isn’t new. Iran, for example, recently sentenced Yusuf Naderkhani, a Christian pastor, to death for refusing to renounce his faith.
But it is particularly frustrating that democratic gains in some Muslim countries have resulted in less freedom and security for Christians. And that this is occurring in countries that receive billions of dollars in U.S. aid. And that the U.S. State Department isn’t doing more to try to stop it.