Coptic Christians in America are welcoming a flood of refugees who have fled from violence in Egypt and are seeking to pressure the international community to come to the aid of those who are still being persecuted for their faith.
Since the April 2011 demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square — and continuing through the military overthrow this summer of Muslim Brotherhood-backed President Mohammed Morsi — violence against the estimated 9 million Christians living in Egypt has intensified, resulting in an unprecedented number of Coptic Christians immigrating to the United States.
Of the approximately 350,000 Copts living in the U.S., almost one-third of those arrived post-revolution, according to Samuel Tadros, a research fellow at Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
“It is very hard to assign exact figures to the population, but we do know that last year we had 202 churches in the U.S. and probably added a few more this year,” he says. In 1971, there were only two Coptic churches in the United States.
The influx is increasing after violence occurred in August when the Muslim Brotherhood unleashed a deadly series of attacks against Copts. Andrew Doran wrote in The National Review that the “Muslim Brotherhood’s systematic and coordinated attacks against Christians in Egypt are reminiscent of Kristallnacht in Germany in 1938,” the series of attacks by Nazis targeting Jews in Germany and parts of Austria.
The unprecedented immigration is having an impact on the Coptic community in the United States. Tadros says many of the newer immigrants are socially more conservative and also arrive with the expectation they will receive assistance getting jobs, housing, and other financial aid.
For recent immigrants, the church community provides an invaluable resource, “especially for those who arrive without connections or family in the U.S.,” says Ashraf Ramelah, president of the Voice of the Copts.
Founded in 2007, Ramelah’s organization assists recent immigrants to resettle, but its main focus and challenge is to draw attention to the needs of Copts, as well as other religious minorities.
“We have sent many letters to the State Department and administration, but they have never replied to any of our requests,” Ramelah tells Newsmax. He says the Obama administration is “completely failing in the mission of the United States … to promote democracy” and to combat discrimination faced by Copts.
Ramelah’s experience is shared by Michael Neurier, president of the U.S. Copts Association, who has organized multiple demonstrations across the United States to draw attention to the persecution in Egypt.
Neurier came to the U.S. from Egypt after the revolution, specifically to increase awareness about the threat posed by the Muslim Brotherhood.
“We have held many public demonstrations in New Jersey, California, New York. We have held press conferences, arranged meetings with the press and met with members of Congress to try and educate people to what is really going on in Egypt,” Neurier says in an interview with Newsmax.
In August, more than 200 Coptic Christians gathered in Nashville to call for peace in Egypt and for President Barack Obama to stand up against the Muslim Brotherhood, according to The Tennessean.
The Nashville protest was a response to the attacks against Egyptian Copts over four days in mid-August, where, in addition to several deaths, the attacks destroyed 38 churches, 58 Coptic-owned houses were burned and looted, and 85 Coptic businesses were destroyed, according to Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute.
The rise in anti-Christian violence has caused supporters to step up their efforts to garner the attention of the media and the government.
Coptic Solidarity and Re:Source Global are two advocacy organizations established since the revolution to provide aid and support to persecuted Copts and other Christians. In mid-September Re:Source Global, an international Christian group, unveiled the Egypt Emergency Fund to provide immediate, targeted relief and ongoing support to persecuted Christians in Egypt.
“The fund allows all people around the world, not just those with financial surplus or local connections, to provide immediate relief to Christians in Egypt. We may not be able to stop the persecution, but we can communicate that we have heard their needs and we stand with Egypt,” Jimmy Lee, president of Re:Source Global, told the Christian News Wire.
Equally important is to increase pressure on the Obama administration and Congress to protect Christian minorities, says Robert P. George, the incoming chairman of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom.
In a recent interview with Catholic Online, George said the U.S. needs to pressure the Egyptian government to “make the protection of the Coptic Christians a high priority. We need to make it clear that where attacks on Christians are done with impunity and where the government just looks aside or doesn’t treat the issue as serious enough to protect the victims, there will be consequences in our relations with the military rulers in Egypt.”
George outlined those sentiments in a September 16 letter requesting the administration designate Egypt as a “country of particular concern” for its tolerance of “severe, ongoing, and systematic violations of religious freedom.”
Marshall, of the Hudson Institute, told Newsmax,”In the U.S., the government pays very little attention to the plight of Christians. It is focused on the more numerous and influential Muslim population because it does not want to be accused of favoring Christians.”
Some within the media have offered support for the Coptic cause. Conservative talk show host Glenn Beck has used Twitter and BlazeTV to forcefully speak out in support of Coptic Christians.
In one tweet, Beck said “Tonight I pray for the Lord to wake the west and all Christians to the plight of those Coptics in Egypt. Slaughtered by the Muslim Brothhd.”
Some in Congress have taken notice of the Coptic Christians’ plight, but little action has resulted. During a June hearing on religious minorities in Syria, New Jersey Republican Rep. Chris Smith noted the plight of Egypt’s Christian minority and expressed concern that “the administration may not be taking seriously the targeting of religious minorities.”
According to Smith, in the last two appropriations cycles, Congress directed the administration to condition $1.3 billion in aid to Egypt on its commitment to protect the religious freedom of its minorities. Both Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry fought that effort.
Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia introduced legislation in January to create a special envoy position within the State Department to advocate on behalf of persecuted religious minorities in the Middle East. While the measure has overwhelming support in the House, it has failed to gain traction in the Senate.
Tadros, of the Hudson Institute, views the violence in Syria and Egypt as a reflection of the diminishing presence of non-Muslim populations throughout the Middle East.
A hundred years ago, the non-Muslim population was about one-quarter of the larger region. There was a religious mosaic that included Druze, Syriac Christians, and Maronites. Now the population of Christians is approximately 3 percent throughout the region,” Tadros tells Newsmax.
“No one who emigrates to the U.S. is ever coming back [to Egypt],” he states bluntly. One of the reasons is the “tremendous hatred on the local level that is not going away” until societal changes are made.