In the wake of military coup in Egypt earlier this month, media reports frequently recount the violent clashes between the military and supporters of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood regime of Mohammed Morsi. What is not often reported, however, is the brutal treatment of Coptic Christians, usually at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Members of the Muslim Brotherhood have taken their anger out specifically on Christians because many Christians wanted the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi out of power and were speaking out, including the Coptic pope,” said Jerry Dykstra, spokesman for Open Doors USA, one of the leading organization reaching out to the persecuted Christian church.
“So in the last three weeks or so, we’ve seen Christians targeted, especially a Coptic priest who was killed in northern Sinai. An Egyptian businessman was killed and beheaded in northern Sinai. Churches were also burned and Christians were driven out of their communities,” he said. “Whenever things get bad, Christians are almost doubly in the spotlight and the cross hairs and we’re seeing this now as things get even worse.”
Dykstra says Coptics had good reason to want the Morsi regime removed from power.
“They were being more marginalized than ever before. Of course, they had no protection from anybody. They were sort of on their own, so there was more violence against Christians. There was more use of the blaspheming laws. There was real concern of the Muslim Brotherhood putting together Sharia Law down the road,” said Dykstra, who saw the major dilemmas facing Christians when he was in Egypt last year.
“It was very hard for Egyptian Christians to see their family members and many of their friends from their churches that fled the country. It’s a very hard position to be in. Should we flee? Should we seek asylum some other place? Should we stick it out? I think that’s still a question today,” said Dykstra.
Despite the grave danger facing believers in Egypt, Dykstra sees political and spiritual upsides there. He says Christians are finally getting a bit of their voice back inside the government.
“Last week, there were three Christians appointed by the new interim cabinet among 33 that were appointed. So that’s a good step,” he said.
On the spiritual side, repressed believers saw their faith grow as a result of the government restrictions.
“One of the neat things I saw was the coming together of many different Christian organizations, churches and denominations for a weekend of prayer. Also, different faiths coming together. Coptic Christians, Catholics and Protestants need to come together,” he said. “Last fall, there was a tremendous seminar. Thousands and thousands of people in the desert came together and prayed and worshiped the Lord and many came to Christ. So even in the midst of despair and violence, you see the Lord working.”
Open Doors USA is also sending relief to the beleaguered believers in Syria, who are caught between a brutal regime and a rebel alliance that is even more hostile to Christians.
“There is just a despair among many of the people. They have been displaced from their homes and children from their schools,” said Dykstra. “We did a report last week that said of the 100,000 killed, five to seven thousand of them have been children. We also know that millions of children are displaced inside and outside of the country.
“Christians are also targeted by some of the rebels. We know that’s happening because have contact to many of the pastors and Christian communities that we serve,” said Dykstra. “We are reaching out with relief packets. We encourage the Christians there to share their relief packets to everybody and that includes Muslims.”