In the Middle East, Christianity is dying. Radical Muslims from the ranks of the Islamic State [ISIS] are killing them en masse and are threatening their very existence in the land where Christianity was born. And the world continues to turn a deaf ear.
In the United States, our Congress gives lip service to the genocide of Christians in the Middle East while allowing next to zero Christian refugees into the country. Why? The only country where the Christian population is growing is in Israel.
Just 15 years ago, there was an estimated 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. In 2013 there were more than 500,000. Now, there is estimated to be less than 250,000 left. In Syria, Christian were thought to be about 8 to 10 percent of the population of over 21 million. While the war-ravaged land cannot accurately give a number, all Congress will say is that the number of Christians in Syria is “significantly lower.”
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has declared a state of emergency in response to the Palm Sunday church bombings by ISIS where 36 Christian Copts lost their lives. He’s not describing the incidents as an attack on Christians but rather refers to them as a targeting all Egyptians in general. Much like the former Mubarak regime, el-Sisi talks about “national unity” in Egypt, but so far, his actions are much like the former regime and do not match his rhetoric. Coptic suffering is now worse.
In a piece by Mina Abdelmalak for the Philos Project, he writes about the exodus of Copt Christians from Egypt.
“But the Coptic community is dying. Our numbers are going down. Those who are financially able to emigrate have either left or plan to leave once they get a chance. Egypt lost its ancient Jewish community by persecution, and now the Copts—the indigenous population whose roots can be traced to Egypt’s earliest days—are following the following the steps of the Egyptian Jews.”
I spent time in Egypt with the Copts in both Cairo and at a retreat far out in the desert. Their leader, Bishop Thomas was a wonderfully calm and personable man who made us all feel welcome despite the undercurrent of uncertainty that was gripping their community.
He had the long flowing black robes and long white beard that made him seem like an extra from a Cecil B. Demille film. He initially turned down the position of bishop preferring the anonymity of serving behind the scenes in Kenya. The Copts remain upbeat despite what was happening all around them.
To try to make sense of what is happening in the Middle East where it comes to the Christians, I reached out to a subject matter expert as well as a good friend. Lela Gilbert is an accomplished author who has written more than 60 books as well as a frequent contributor to Fox News, Algemeiner, The Jerusalem Post, The Huffington Post, and many other publications. Her books include her “Saturday People, Sunday People” where she quoted a radical Islamist who called for “the elimination of first the Saturday people and the Sunday people” which translates to the Jews and Christians.
She moved to Jerusalem in 2006 during Israel’s bloody conflict in Lebanon with Hezbollah from Calfornia. She lived there for over 10 years until just recently moved back to Washington D.C. I’ve visited with her many of the places mentioned here with her as part of a security team for her and others. She’s been a trusted friend and a frequent source to find out what is going on in the region that you DON’T read in the newspapers.
So we got her to answer a few questions about the plight of the Christian community and ordinary Muslims as well in a few of the hotspots right now and her answers…as always are straight on point.
SO: What is going on right now, it seems that Christians are being erased in the Middle East, in Iraq, in Syria and lately in Egypt?
LG: “That is absolutely right, I spoke to one of my colleagues from Hudson about that today [Friday] and Egypt has the largest Christian population in the Middle East and they are being relentlessly slaughtered [by ISIS]. The government doesn’t have the capability to control it and they’d like to but they don’t seem to have any handle on how to stop it nationwide.”
“Things got worse for the Christians when el-Sisi took charge, he reached out to the Copts, their Coptic Pope and had him on stage with him when he was inaugurated. This sent a message to the bad guys [Muslim brotherhood and later ISIS] that the Copts were part of his team. Things got worse for them and continue to this day.”
SO: So, it is ISIS now has replaced the Brotherhood?
LG: “It is certainly ISIS now, the latest few incidents in Egypt have been results of their…’handiwork’ which they have taken responsibility for,” she said. “The Egyptian government has no love of them, in fact, they’re trying desperately to get rid of them. They’re trying to get them out of the Sinai. They [ISIS] want to oust the regime and take over.
And Israel is…I don’t know this first-hand but know this from people who do know is working hand-in-hand with the Egyptians to clear out the Sinai because Hamas is also helping ISIS. They’ve helped them along the way with arms and smuggling material for them.”
SO: What has been the spillover if any in Israel?
LG: “Well, right after the church attack, ISIS launched a rocket from the Sinai that hit Eilat, luckily it hit a greenhouse and no one was injured. And of course, when the Israelis respond you don’t hear that ‘Israel hit with four rockets that landed near a school.’ What you do hear is ‘Israeli jets bomb Gaza City’ or something like that.”
“There was genuine concern in Israel right after the Syria airfield bombing as now it is confirmed that Assad has chemical weapons in Syria and will use them. At a dinner at Rosh Hashanah, the conversation calmly turned to gas masks and people were all talking about making sure everyone had one as if it will be needed.”
The subject quickly turned to the news of Afghanistan and the bombing of the tunnel complex using the MOAB and how that would send a message to North Korea and Kim who loves to rattle his saber. But Gilbert said it also sends a message to Hamas as well. They’ve taken to digging tunnels from the Gaza Strip and the Egyptians have taken a new tactic against them.
“I’ve heard the Egyptians are flooding tunnels with raw sewage now and recently drowned three Hamas terrorists with that.”
SO: How far is the Coptic population dwindling?
LG: “That’s a good question. Nobody really knows. It is thought that the Copts make up about 10 percent of the country’s total population of 92 million. But some of my friends from there have said, that the wealthy ones, the ones with money or with lawyers and get asylum in the US have already done so.
What you’re left with are the very poor, the people who just don’t have the capacity to pack up and leave. There is no place they can walk to. They can’t go to Israel, or the Sudan. They don’t have any options unless they can get to a western nation. The ones that are left unfortunately are going to be the ones that are never going to leave. Nobody really knows how many [Christians] there are. And it isn’t just the Copts, it is the Anglicans, Evangelicals…etc.”
SO: That is terrible.
LG: “It really is the end of Christianity in the Middle East. The Copts are going to eventually get so weakened that they can’t continue. But their so proud and very loyal and faithful but look at Iraq and Syria. The Iraqi Christians are almost completely gone, some of them want to stay and rebuild but I don’t how it is going to be for them or who they’re going to trust to defend them.
SO: Exactly, many of the Iraqis that worked for me a few years ago, all stated that they’re afraid they’ll never be able to go back.
LG: I know…but for them re-building is trying to deal with bombed out buildings, booby traps, it is completely demolished. The churches are desecrated, everything is gone. Then they need protection. Where will they get that? Where will they get trustworthy protection?
They need a strong defense that can protect their entire village, not just weapons. Because they’re on their own. I just don’t have high hopes for their rebuilding. I wish I did. I know there are people that don’t like to say that. I don’t share their optimism.
Photo courtesy of Reuters