Many are dying and fearing for their lives in this religious fight.
Two women married to Coptic priests in Egypt reportedly want to leave their husbands. But sanctioned divorce is difficult to obtain in the Coptic church. So, reportedly, the women convert to Islam and are thought to be “held hostage” by the church.
Militant Muslim groups, including Al-Qaeda, demand their release. The Coptic church denies that the women have converted, and any allegations that they are being held by force. This message is posted on Al-Qaeda-linked Shumukh al-Islam website, December 2nd, 2010:
“Every Muslim who cares about the honour of his sisters to bomb these churches during Christmas celebrations, when they will be most crowded."
The site also lists 50 Coptic churches in Egypt. Coptic Christians make up ten percent of Egypt’s population.
Twenty-nine days later, outside the Two Saints church in Alexandria, which was on the list, and very crowded and under heavy governmental security for a New Year’s Mass, a bomb explodes, killing 23 people and injuring some 100 more.
Violent protests follow for three days, all across the country, with thousands of Copts shouting down the government of president Hosni Mubarek, who they accuse of discrimination and oppression and of failing to protect them. Overwhelmed by protesters, police in the capital of Cairo have been seen dropping their shields and hurling stones and bottles back at the crowds—injuries are widespread, including amongst police.
The leader of Egypt’s Christians, Pope Shenouda III, has made a plea for calm. And the government is ramping up security around churches for the observance of Christmas, which Copts celebrate on January 7th, Friday.
That fact shines a sadder light on all of this: Considering the subjectivity of religious belief, that different sects of Christianity can have different beliefs as to the date of the birth of Christ, the notion that any one group of people has any more direct a line to the truth about God—and what he or she or it would want if in fact he or she it exists—and that people continue to blow each other up over differences in opinion on the matter, well, it’s all the more horrible and ridiculous.
The New York Times reports:
“As protesters marched through downtown Cairo toward Talat Harb Square, where they were vastly outnumbered by riot police officers in black uniforms wielding truncheons, they chanted ‘Down with Mubarak’ and ‘Down with the military state.’ But they also carried signs with slogans like, ‘Egyptians are one people’ and ‘Citizenship is the way out from the slide into sectarianism.’