As politicians and public figures in the West repeated the usual bland Easter messages marking Holy Week, the world’s largest religious persecution continues to be conveniently suppressed from the news agenda. In 2016, 90,000 Christians were murdered for their faith, a global genocide that has continued unabated this year. On Palm Sunday, two attacks on Churches in Egypt resulted in 44 dead and more than 100 wounded. ISIS claimed responsibility for both bombings.
These attacks were the bloodiest in recent years and come after a series of coordinated assaults against Egypt’s Coptic community. This February dozens of Christian families were forced to flee their homes in North Sinai, as ISIS publicly vowed to drive Christianity out of the region for good. The repeated campaign of violence suggests the security forces of Egypt are either unable – or unwilling – to protect the nation’s Christian citizenship. Often after these attacks, the security services are so slow to respond that perpetrators are rarely caught or even pursued.
Egypt’s government broadcasts a good rhetoric of solidarity, repeatedly claiming to do all within its power to put a stop to anti-Christian violence. And yet the record of the Egyptian security services suggests at best, extreme compliancy, or at worse, tacit support for the persecution and complicity. Following the Palm Sunday attacks, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (Egypt’s President) authorised a three-month state of emergency. This was presented as a bold step to demonstrate how serious the government was in responding to this attack. In truth, it is a convenient cover to further increase the executive’s powers so it can continue to wage its war against the political opposition. The Christian persecution is effectively ignored. Furthermore, the government actually restricted the national coverage of the Palm Sunday attacks in an effort to downplay the devastation. Additional political moves, such as the passing of a law to arbitrarily halt the building of Churches, exhibit the true motives of Egypt’s ruling class.
Egypt’s Christians are not alone in their plight. Christian communities in all Middle-Eastern states face extinction. Twenty years ago, Christians made up 20 per cent of the population of this region, now there are less than 4 per cent. In Iraq, the number has fallen from 1.5 million to 150,000. Whether it be from state-sponsored persecution or the murderous forces of Islamist terror groups, Christians are dying in the very cradle of their faith, a region they have been rooted within for 2,000 years. According to the International Society for Human Rights, a German-based secular organisation, 80 per cent of all religious discrimination is directed towards Christians, making it the most persecuted faith in the world. A new generation of martyrs on a scale perhaps never before seen and yet largely ignored by an apathetic commentariat.
In a few days Pope Francis will visit Egypt. Christians, abandoned by their government, are now hoping the Pontiff will call for meaningful action to protect them, rather than the words of futile rhetoric offered by the government.
Few Western leaders actually dispute the torment of Middle Eastern Christians. But with each anti-Christian attack, the same old copy-and-paste statement is trotted out, ‘thoughts with the victims’, ‘standing firm with our allies’ — but nothing in the form of concrete action. A policy that effectively boils down to looking the other way until the Christians of the region are gone for good. Atrocity after atrocity is met with ever more brazen appeasement.
As the craven West continues to watch and ‘condemn’ this ongoing genocide, Christians on the ground display their bravery each day in simple acts of worship, fully in the knowledge that in doing so, they risk extreme violence and even death for them and their families.
Pope Francis arrives on 28 April. We pray the visit brings tangible developments to Egypt’s beleaguered Christians, who for decades have been promised the right of freedom to worship — but have received only lies and useless words.