Burned-out rubble is all that’s left of Christian shopkeeper Abskharon Suleiman’s appliance store in the northern Egyptian village of Sharbat. His home was destroyed as well as shops owned by his adult children – all targeted because they are Christians.

Christians pray for an end to the violence (Photo by Gorkems)

Ten-year-old Romany Rashed remembers being terrified during the attack. The fourth grader told the Christian Science Monitor ’s Kristen Chick of fleeing to a room “where his family huddled together, afraid for their lives, as a violent mob attacked their house.

“His family had fled to this room on the top floor, where pictures of Jesus and Coptic saints hang on bare cement walls. His parents dragged heavy furniture to the door, barricading it as they heard people try to break in below. The mob was throwing rocks at the windows, and he heard gunfire, says Romany. They were cursing Christians."

“We kept praying that God would be with us,” the boy told the Monitor reporter. “And He was.”

As the mob set fire to the home of a Christian family across the street, Muslim neighbors saved Romany’s family, hustling them out of their house by a back entrance, into a car, and out of the village, until it was safe enough to return.

After his church was burned to the ground in a village nearby, a local clergyman was sentenced to six months in prison for rebuilding the church slightly taller than the building permit allowed. Incredibly, as he appeals the verdict, no legal action has been taken against those who burned he church or the Muslim imams who inflamed their passions at local mosques, inciting a mob of 3,000 to burn down the church building.

In the southern Egyptian town of Qena, Dr. Alfy Adly, an obstetrician who is a Christian, describes a mob that attacked a Christian landlord

and another that drove out the elected governor of the area, who was also a Christian. Dr. Adly has videotape of a neighbor’s threats to kill him, but says police refuse to take any action.

Another mob attacked a church in the Nile delta village of Meet Bahsar, destroying the pastor’s car after rumors spread that a 14-year-old girl had been kidnapped by Christians and was being held in the church. The rumors were disproven, but no charges have been made by police for the car burning.

Are Christians in Egypt being targeted? Yes, says the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a secular activist group that is tracking attacks on Egypt’s religious minorities..

Most Egyptian Christians are Copts, who consider themselves to be the original Egyptians before the Arab conquest in 641 A.D. The Copts trace their Christian faith back to Mary, Joseph and the infant Jesus’ escape to Egypt when King Herod ordered all the male babies around Bethlehem murdered.

As recently as 1952, Copts prospered in Egyptian society – holding more than 50 percent of the wealth. But many lost everything when Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew King Farouk and nationalized businesses nationwide. In addition, Nasser’s strong pro-Islamic policies further undermined the Copts’ standing. As a result, many Copts left for Australia, North America and Europe.

Those who remain say conditions have gotten steadily worse – and have taken a deadly turn with Muslim hardliners seizing control in the Arab Spring revolution that ousted longtime president Hosni Mubarak. In 1992, there were over 9 million Copts (out of a population of some 57 million Egyptians). Now, thousands have fled in the face of growing tensions and sporadic violence.

They say discrimination against Egyptian Christians is systematic, part of the hardline Islamic practice of dhimmitude, the toleration of non-Muslims while denying them basic human rights. Under shari’ah or Islamic law, non-Muslims suffer many legal inequities intended to motivate them to convert to Islam. In Pakistan and Egypt, this has included forcing Christians to take the worst jobs – such as collecting Cairo’s garbage, repairing sewers and scavenging in trash dumps, professions shunned by Muslims.

In October, thousands of Egyptian Copts demanding equality marched in Cairo – citing their participation in the Arab Spring demonstrations that resulted in the successful revolution that overthrew Hosni Mubarak. However, instead of being recognized and rewarded, the Copts saw their massive demonstration end in a bloodbath. The Egyptian army opened fire and ran protesters over with armored vehicles, leaving at least 27 dead.

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