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Arab Spring Leads to Second Exodus

As a horrified world watched coverage of Christian demonstrators dying at the hands of Egyptian soldiers this week, it underlined the possibility that the Arab Spring might permanently change Egypt after all. Coptic Christians, who have lived in the Land of the Pharaohs since Biblical times, are making an Exodus in all directions. The La Stampa affiliated site Vatican Insider reports:

Since March, increased religious tension in Egypt has led to the emigration of about 100 thousand Christians. The Egyptian Union of human rights organisations has spoken out against this, saying that this mass exodus could alter the Country’s demography as well as its economic stability…

According to analysts, this high rate of emigration is mostly a consequence of the Arab Spring revolts which began in December 2010 and are supposed to have boosted the power held by the Islamic component within Egyptian society.

Egypt’s Copts welcomed Islamic forces as liberators in the 7th century AD; the Orthodox Church considered the Copts to be a heretical sect and under the Byzantine emperors the Copts faced persecution.  Since then, relations with Muslims have had their ups and downs and in recent centuries Copts have been outsiders in Egyptian society: prosperous enough to have influence, but not populous enough to demand equal treatment as a matter of right.  They depend on the ruling establishment for protection but are also convenient scapegoats for governments which rule by playing competing factions against one another.

Religious  tension has grown as the Egyptian ‘revolution’ stagnates. Rising economic problems stir up anger against a religious minority many Egyptians feel benefited from special treatment during the Mubarak years.  Competition over land and water in the south often pits Muslim and Christian villages and villagers against one another.  Some of the Islamists reaching for political power in Egypt today are less sympathetic to the concerns of the Copts than others are.

Christian emigration from the Middle East is not new.  For the last 150 years Christians have fled the region in droves.  Some have gone to seek better opportunities in richer countries; some have grown weary of the chronic poverty, tyranny and strife that has characterized so much of the region for so long; others have fled waves of persecution, discrimination and murder that have periodically erupted against the region’s Christian minorities since the 19th century.

Most recently, Christians have fled the chaos, violence and persecution they have experienced in Iraq even as Palestinian Christians have been escaping the confluence of Israeli occupation and rising Islamic militancy.

The flight of the Copts (should the current flow of emigrants grow) would be a bigger deal.  There are more than 8 million Copts and the outflow since March has amounted to slightly more than one percent of the total.  Should the numbers wishing to leave increase (not unlikely after the recent violence in Cairo), it is not clear where many of them could go.  The pattern in the Middle East in these circumstances has been that the wealthier and better connected Christians get out, while poorer ones experience massacres and forced conversions.

But the Copts are more than a significant demographic presence in Egypt; they are an important pillar of the country’s economy — and of its embattled liberal tradition in politics.

An Egypt without Copts, like so much of the Middle East that has steadily been losing the cultural and social diversity that once so enriched it, would be a narrower, poorer, more radical and less hopeful place.  If the chief legacy of the Egyptian revolution is the destruction of this historic minority, future historians will likely judge it a step backward.  A picture of former President Mubarak in a cage may make the front pages, but the destruction of the Copts will do more to define Egypt’s future.

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  • Jack

    The future for Egypt is bleak – culturally, socially, economically; a great pity for a country with such a rich history.

  • Otis McWrong

    US foreign policy the past 10 years: Remove the lid from a boiling pot of angry, semi-literate muslims. What could possibly go wrong?

  • John Burke

    The Copts will fight, not leave.

  • Mark

    Egypt will get better if regressive forces don’t abort its revolution.

  • Luke Lea

    “If the chief legacy of the Egyptian revolution is the destruction of this historic minority, future historians will likely judge it a step backward. ”

    A giant step at that.

  • Seymour in Berkeley

    The Copts are gettting beat up on in Egypt because there are no longer any Jews there.

  • dearieme


  • Tom Kratman

    @John Burke:

    Doubt it. While they seem to serve, or have served, in the Egyptian Army, most or perhaps all of them were shunted to service support and such. Thus, few of them know how to fight, even to the poor standards of Arab armies generally. And they’re badly outnumbered. Oh, sure, a few may make the attempt, but they’re already too outclassed to prevail. And they know this; thus, they’ll leave.

  • valwayne

    More results from Obama’s foreign policy of bows, apology, and appeasement. And what is he doing to end the persecution of Christians? Nothing!

  • K2K

    My suggestion is that Egypt’s Copts should migrate en masse to St. Catherine’s monastery in the SE Sinai and seek self-determination. Maybe take over the entire Sinai, includingthe gas fields and Sharm-el-Sheik.

    St. Catherine’s MUST be protected – such a treasure for the entire world.

  • Jorge Luis

    Kill the Jews. Kill the Christians. Kill the Hindus. Kill the Buddhists.

    That pretty much summarizes the Muslim Religion and its true goal.

  • grassmarket

    Just one mistake – “Coptic Christians, who have lived in the Land of the Pharaohs since Biblical times”. It’s far, far worse than that. The Copts WERE the Pharoahs! The language of the Coptic Church was the very same language as that used by the pyramid builders – they switched from heiroglyphs to an alphabet derived from Greek when they converted to Christianity in the 2nd and 3rd centuries. When Jean-Francois Champollion became the first man in 1600 years to read heiroglyphs, he began by learning Coptic. Many of the words and phrases used in biblical coptic are identical to the words and phrases found on the pyramids. They are in fact the direct lineal descendants of the world’s oldest civilisation. It is absolutely essential that all civilized governments come to their assistance and protect their rights to live in peace and security in the lands they have occupied since the dawn of recorded history.

  • Steve Padilla

    Yes we can…support destabilizing the world to make the way safe for totalitarian collectivism worldwide.

  • Amanda G.

    “””Egypt will get better if regressive forces don’t abort its revolution.”””

    Leave your ridiculous marxist rhetoric outside, gumby.

  • Jacques Deloirette

    What a foolish thing you said about the exodus of Christians from the holy land in the face of “Islamic militancy” and “Israeli occupation:” Most Arab Christians in Israel proper, which could provide the only real test case on the effects of “occupation” on Christian life, are flourishing. Due to the nature of Arab politics they cannot say so publicly, but Christian Arab Israelis are largely very satisfied with their lives and have fairly good career prospects. If they leave its a sign of upward mobility more than “fleeing:” Visit Christian communities in Israel and you’ll quickly see that the best place for Christians in the Middle East is Israel, beyond a shadow of a doubt.

  • Henry Miller

    Isn’t religion supposed to be a force for peace?

    Yeah, right…

  • Doug Santo

    “Palestinian Christians have been escaping the confluence of Israeli occupation and rising Islamic militancy”

    Israeli occupation? Occupation of what?

    I am a casual observer of Middle East affairs, so I would not rate my knowledge as comprehensive; however, nothing I have read, seen, or heard indicates that Palestinian Christians are “escaping” Israeli occupation. Are Palestinian Christians escaping Israeli persecution? Are they escaping Israeli controlled pogroms against Christians? Are they escaping random acts of violence or murders, or church vandalism by Israeli occupiers?

    Can you provide some evidence to back up this claim?

    Doug Santo
    Pasadena, CA

  • ed l

    “Egypt’s Copts welcomed Islamic forces as liberators in the 7th century AD;”

    A glimpse at the middle east and the application of Occam’s Razor shows this to be arab-apologetic fantasy.

    Why would they welcome the prospect of being dhimmis – little better than slaves ?

  • jlmsika

    The only country in the Middle East where the christian population is increasing steadily is Israel. And the Bahaï, savagely persecuted in Iran, also took refuge there and built their major temple in Haïfa.
    The rebirth of Israel was the real spring in the Middle East.
    The real revolution for the muslims would be if they stopped teaching hatred of jews and the west to their kids. Then, they could experience a real “Spring”. Not before!

  • lilian

    I am a Coptic Christian and I pray that God will stand by his people. It’s very sad to see this happening to innocent people, who only want to live and worship safely in their country!! What is this world coming to?? God help us all!!!

  • jono39

    Israel is the only country in the region whose Christian population has increased in the last 50 years. Since the 1840s Christians have been steadily and spasmodically driven from the region, partly nationalist and anti-imperialist in Algeria, but mainly Muslim radicalism first directed at the servants of the declining Ottomans and increasingly Caliphate driven muslim extremism which is now gathering steam. If the shale gas revolution is for real the Arab world will implode with a violence and maleveolence not witnessed since Hitler unrolled his visions. Fortunately for the rest of us, they are technologically incompetent but American greed and bumbling will allow them to murder above their weight class.

  • Fred Gill

    Now here’s an interesting group for the open borders and “immigrants’ rights” crowd. Anyone reckon they will take up the cudgels in support of bringing a few million prosperous, hard-working Coptic Christians over to the USA? Maybe not. The Copts might not vote Democratic. They might even have a harsh word or two to say about Islamic militancy.

  • Art

    Islam wipes out all other religions in its sphere of influence. Egypt used to be all Christian, as was Turkey and the rest of the middle east. All converted by Islam’s sword.

  • Mark

    “Leave your ridiculous marxist rhetoric outside, gumby.”

    Get a clue and take a look at who is actually attacking the Copts. Like the Marxists you falsely associate with others, these forces aren’t keen on democracy.

  • Taoady

    Henry Miller;

    The atheist regimes of Pol Pot and Stalin weren’t very tolerant of ANY religious beliefs.

  • Russ

    Dear Europe,

    There are eight million of us, and we’ll work for cheap. Got any boats?


    The Copts

  • Kalām

    Islam cannot co-exist in perpetuity with other religious beliefs or politcal systems.

    The re-assertion of islamic principles is fuelled by demographic strength and financial resources from oil sales.

    Islam is a madness that will either be cured or will one day rule the world.

  • Mike

    As a Christian, I’d rather live in Israel than any other country in the world, ‘cept the U.S. The Copts had better head across the Sinai…

  • jlmsika

    Muslim Egypt is self-destructive.
    It endeavored several times to “erase” the state of Israel and was subsequently humiliated.
    It expelled its jewish population, and now , after an attack on the Isqraeli embassy in Cairo, it is victimizing and scaring away its Pure self-destruction!
    Freedom from Mubarak’s rule means freedom to kill, set fire to churches (there are no synagogues left…) destruct, devastate and terrify the remaining minorities.
    It will take many generations to rebuild that country, if ever…
    Obama and Clinton (“Mubarak must step down, now!”…) have no clue whatsoever on the real world, beyond their ideological fantasies.
    They are endangering the U.S.A. and the world.

  • Tom Kinney

    In early ’66 while hitching southward through Ethiopia, I attended a Coptic ceremony held in a thatched roof hut in a very small town. It was the end of the fasting associated with the Coptic version of lent. It reminded me of nothing more than the end of Ramadan I’d attended just a month or so before in Asmara, the Italianate capitol of Muslim Eritrea–Italians having a strange love for Ethiopia, perhaps deriving from the Prester John myth. In both cases, the observation of a lent-like period of fasting was far more rigorous for Coptics and Muslims than anything western Catholics do today. If I recall correctly, the Coptic lent lasts 55 or so days and was nearly as prohibitive as Ramandan. During Ramadan you can’t swallow anything, water included, during daylight hours unless you’re a traveler, ostensibly on your way to Mecca, or if you were a merchant on the road; Muslim Arabs having once been a great merchantile people.

    It’s probably correct to state, as was contended in a comment above, that Islam was welcomed by Egyptian Coptics, as it was once far more tolerant than today. Though not nearly as tolerant as Islamic apologists such as Edward Said have claimed.

    Ethiopian Coptics had a very different history than those in Egypt. It was protected from the mad surge of early Islamic conquests by its mountains and largely cut-off from its Egyptian brethren.

    As it happened, just previous to the end of lent further south in Ethiopia, I by happenstance had also hitched into Axum, the ancient center of Ethiopian Coptics on Good Friday and spent the weekend there, attending a ceremony on Easter that was being filmed by German documentarians. It was held at a modern church near an ancient, smaller church. There’s a fun book by Graham Hancock about all this, claiming that the true Ark of the Covenant is stashed away in Axum in the older church, where a keeper who is assigned the job for life stays and can never leave. He tracks the Arc’s supposed journey there from Israel at a very early date. It’s probably nonsense, but presents an interesting speculative history nonetheless.

    The memorable aspect of Easter in Axum was watching the Coptic priests dressed in fine silk with silk parasols walk out of church and give alms to a long line of severely, congenitally disabled beggers who lined both side of the walkway and had come from great distances to do so. Priests who had little, gave what they could, which could be as little as a few grains of rice. The diversity of deformities was mind boggling in this poor country, still under King Selassie at the time.

    Point of all this is, the ancient religions derived from Judaism aren’t at heart all that different from each other. But it being the nature of humans to social group for power and protection, this dynamic turns any faith into a “whose side are you on” proposal that can’t survive with integrity among even the most devoted. But don’t blame it on religion; blame it on essential human nature.

    Egypt will only darken greatly before it finds the light again now, I’m afraid.

  • Sashland

    I propose a trade – Gaza and the West Bank for the Copts and Hamas / PLO get the Sinai.

  • Adam DeVille

    The idea that the Copts initially welcomed Muslim invaders is one of the grossest (but, lamentably, commonest) slanders extant. It is demonstrably false and anyone with even a superficial acquaintance with the relevant scholarship would never say this. As one of the foremost scholars of Muslim-Christian encounters in the antique period, Sidney Griffith, has demonstrated on more than one occasion, “closer inspection reveals that the writers were not so much voicing a welcome for what we recognize in hindsight as the onset of Islamic conquest as they were invidiously comparing even Arab rule, which they disdained, to the oppressive conduct of their previous governors….Otherwise…the Christians…unanimously regarded the conquest as a disaster.” Griffith’s essay, “The Syriac-Speaking Churches and the Muslims in the Medinan Era of Muhammad and the Four Caliphs” is in a new collection edited by Dietmar Winkler and noted here, where it will be reviewed at length in the coming weeks:

  • goldenetBoy

    Why can’t they kick out the folks in the Gaza Strip and let the Copts move in. This would secure the southern border of Israel.

  • johnson

    Or the Negev instead to right some wrongs.

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