Sunday, May 23, 2010

Obama turns deaf ear to Coptic Christian concerns

As if his indifference toward all things Christian at home wasn't bad enough, Barack Obama is turning out to be the worst president in history when it comes to the plight of persecuted Christians abroad. In Egypt, Coptic Christians, stewards of some of the faith's most ancient traditions, are suffering mightily under the tyranny of Islamic rule. But Obama has turned a deaf ear to their pleas for help.
“The Obama administration’s benign neglect of Arab Christians, is putting freedoms and human rights in the whole Middle East at risk,” is the way it was put in an interview with the Sun by the president of the U.S. Copts Association, Michael Meunier, who is headquartered in Washington “Friendships with Muslims has been the Obama Administration’s opening theme from his first day in office and in that famed Cairo speech in which he extended a hand to all Muslims in partnership.”

Mr. Meunier added that that the president’s failure to speak as extensively about the persecution of Arab Christians was a departure from American policy and a grave error. “We have no problems with American friendships with Islam and Muslims, but it cannot be accomplished at the expense of our rights as Egyptian Christians and Arab Christians, and as the very lives of our people there are endangered,” Mr. Meunier told the Sun.

One area of complaint by the Copt community is a law banning the repair or construction of churches without a “presidential decree.” The measure, known as the Hamayuni Law, is based on an 1856 Ottoman decree but was rarely enforced in Egypt under the monarchial dynasty overthrown by army officers in 1952.

Indeed, until the coup that put Gamal Abdel Nasser in power in 1952, Christian communities in Egypt — including Catholics, Protestants, Armenians, Greeks and Italians in addition to the Copts — enjoyed a climate of moderate Islam as the country westernized itself.

Because Christianity in Egypt is so ancient, preceding Islam by seven centuries, the country is a repository of multiple centuries-old churches, part of its international cultural heritage. As attractions for tourists, they rival the Pharos heritage. Those churches benefit somewhat as tourist sites, getting a measure of protection by the state. Elsewhere in Egypt, smaller, ordinary churches are burning. Because of the Hamayuni Law, the churches that are attacked or burned down remain gone.