Thousands of Egyptian Americans representing oppressed and persecuted Coptic Christians streamed down Washington, DC’s Pennsylvania Avenue Wednesday, October 19, 2011. Their demonstration had begun in front of the White House. It ended with a rally at the U.S. Capitol.
Copts, who traveled by the busloads from such places as Chicago, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania, came to Washington to protest the brutal treatment of Egypt’s Christians and demand that the Obama administration pressure Cairo to protect the rights of non-Muslims. They also wished to call attention to congressional legislation that supports Copts and other vulnerable people groups. The demonstration was a response to an Egyptian army-led massacre of Christians on Sunday, October 9, in Cairo.
On October 9, Egyptian Christians had staged a peaceful demonstration and a march through downtown Cairo to protest the burning of a church and several Christian-owned homes and businesses in Upper Egypt on September 30. The Christian protestors were attacked by an Islamist mob near an underpass cutting through downtown Cairo. They were pelted with rocks, bricks, Molotov cocktails, and otherwise molested. Then when the Christians reached their destination, Maspero Square, Egyptian military forces were already aligned against them to quell the demonstration.
Seeming to have forgotten Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi’s recent testimony that the army would “never . . . open fire at citizens,” the army did indeed open fire on the protestors, killing twenty-one. Later, when the army was leaving the bloodbath it had created, one soldier bragged that he had shot a Copt in the chest and killed him. The Muslim crowd cheered, shouting, “This is the real Egyptian army!”
Six other Christians at the demonstration were crushed under armored personnel carriers when those vehicles deliberately plowed into crowds of protestors. A Compass Direct News Service report called the attack “the worst act of violence against Egyptian Christians in modern history.” In addition to the twenty-six people that were killed, hundreds of others were wounded by the army’s attack. The army attack left Egypt’s Christians shocked and devastated.
At Wednesday’s demonstration in Washington, the American Copts pointed out that U.S. tax payer dollars fund the tanks that killed the Egyptian Christians. Many people, including members of Congress, ask why the U.S. continues to give hundreds of millions of dollars annually in financial aid to a country with such an abysmal human rights record. Over $70 billion has been given in aid since the Camp David accords, notes columnist Mike McManus. Some of the Coptic protestors in Washington held signs declaring, “Your Tax Dollars Kill Christians in Egypt.”
Other demonstrators carried a variety of other messages. Some of the protestors held large photographs depicting the horrific events at Maspero Square. Others carried Bible verses speaking of the persecution of the Church, or messages to the world such as “1400 years of Islamic oppression: We still stand defiant!”
Many of the people carried large wooden crosses or American flags. And a few carried black wooden coffins that they placed on the sidewalk in front of the White House. Together they raised their voices in such chants for justice as, “Why, why, must we die?” “Obama, Obama, where are you?” “Coptic blood is not cheap!” and “USA, wake up!”
As the protestors had declared, Copts and other Egyptian Christians, along with Egypt’s tiny Baha’i community and tinier Jewish community, have, to varying degrees, been victims of discrimination and persecution for 14 centuries. The Copts are descendants of ancient Egyptians converted to Christianity by Saint Mark, who founded the Church of Alexandria in 43 AD. But since the Arab conquest of Egypt in 640 AD, Egyptian Christians have lived as dhimmi, second-class citizens, under Islam.
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