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Maikel Nabil Sanad Headshot

They Burned the Churches and With Them, My Childhood

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Wednesday, a few minutes after the Egyptian police attacked the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins in Cairo, Islamists started targeting Christians (Copts) and churches all over the country. Over 25 churches were burned down, and lots of shops and private property of Christians were robbed and destroyed.

Among the burned ones was the Adventist Chapel in Assiut, the place where I attended kindergarten for around two years. I remember how I didn't like it because one of the servants there used to hit me. I remember also how I used to smell the lemon trees in the chapel yard.

After burning the Adventist Chapel, Islamists in Assiut burned down St. George church also. Nuns had to flee the church to surrounding buildings, while Islamists took furniture from the church and burned it in the street. I used to pray in this church for six years, and had my Sunday school there for more than 14 years. I have lots of good and bad memories related to this place, which I once considered my home.

I don't consider myself a Christian any more. Since I became an atheist in 2007, I faced lots of harassment from Egypt's Christians. As the Coptic Orthodox Church has medieval beliefs, similar to how Catholics were in the middle ages, they went crazy because of my convert to atheism. Priests visited me in my house and threatened me not to spread my atheist ideas. Rumours were spread against me by church servants. Some Christians tried to put me in jail for blasphemy, while others incited the army to put me in jail.

But for me, as I follow what's happening to the Christians in Egypt right now, I'm forced to remember what happened to the Egyptian Jews 70 years ago, when The Muslim Brotherhood did the same thing by bombing synagogues and burning Jewish property.

At that time, Egypt had around 80,000 Jewish citizens. After the coup of 1952, Nasser joined the Muslim Brotherhood in the campaign against Jews. Nazi criminals were given refuge in Egypt, while Egyptian Jews were driven to concentration camps. The Egyptian army later deported most of the Egyptian Jews, and removed their citizenship, after robbing their properties. Now there are drastically fewer Jews in Egypt.

After that, other religious minorities were targeted also. Shiite Islam and Bahaism were banned by law, with their properties given to Al-Azhar. Christians were targeted by both Islamists and the army. The same army which the U.S. funds, while this army forces recruits to yell every day "No God Except Allah, Mohammed is the prophet of Allah, Jews are enemies of Allah."

The same army which massacred the Christian protest in Maspero in Oct. 2011, leaving over 20 Christians killed, and before that in Feb. 2011 attacked monks in St. Bishoy Monastery with RPJs, while soldiers were enjoying breaking crosses. Violent attacks happen against Christians every day by Islamists, while the state makes sure each time that the predators are not prosecuted. In the same time, Ayman Youssef Mansour, Gamal Abdu Massoud and other Christians are in prisons now for blasphemy because they expressed their Christian beliefs on Facebook.

My fear is that Egypt's Christians are going to face the same destiny as its Jews. As of now, many Egyptian Christians have left the country already, leaving behind around 8 million more. Now, as Egypt may face a civil war after the July 3 coup, massacres against Christians will happen more, rousing more fears of a new holocaust.

I'm not sure what could be the solution for this problem. The Egyptian army is quite racist, and won't protect Christians. Western countries and Israel have lots of security interests with the Egyptian army, and wouldn't risk it even for 8 million Christians. If David Ben-Gurion didn't do anything for Egypt's Jews, who would do anything for its Christians? The issue even becomes more complicated with Europe trying to be nice to Islamists to contain terrorism in Europe.

In the past, Jews tried to escape Germany and run away from the Nazi rule, but nearly no country accepted them. The U.S. turned back ships of Jewish refugees sending them back to death in Germany, while the U.K. prevented them from immigrating to Palestine. England was quite nice to accept only Jewish kids under the (the Kindertransport), to make sure he didn't have his Bar Mitzvah, and thus not Jewish yet.

I believe Egypt's Christians (and also Syrian Christians) could face the same destiny. They are a minority who have been prosecuted in this country, with racist state institutions that planned for decades to extradite them, while the world is unable to take any measures to ensure their safety.

For a long time, I believed that Christians (and other religious minorities) shouldn't leave Egypt. I said that they should stay and struggle for their rights. I myself untill now refused to apply for asylum or to have another passport, to make sure that I go back to Egypt after I finish my studying in Germany.

Some Coptic activists believe that western countries should open their borders to Egypt's Christians before a genocide happens. They may be right. I wouldn't like to risk other people's lives for my ideology. In the end, I believe that people should have to right to choose for themselves. But, will the free world take responsibility at this moment and offer a refuge for these minorities? Or will we just keep watching, pretending that nothing happening until it's too late? Building memorials and recognizing genocides won't bring people back to life.

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