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Concern Over Attacks on Middle East Christians Grows in Washington


Human rights groups say attacks against Christians in the Middle East have multiplied in the aftermath of the Arab Spring and are triggering an exodus from the region. And Christian activists in the U.S. say President Barack Obama is not doing enough to prevent it.

Last year, the bloody crackdown on a Muslim Brotherhood protest camp in Cairo drew international condemnation.

But less attention was paid to the many Egyptian churches that were attacked in the days that followed.

In Iraq, Christians number about a third of the pre-U.S. invasion population - and there are fears the same will happen in Syria, where a group of nuns was recently kidnapped and released.

Congress has held hearings on “the persecution of Christians” and one looking at Egypt was chaired by Representative Christopher Smith:

“We are witnessing grievous violence and other forms of intimidation directed against religious and political minorities, particularly the Copts and other Christians about which our government and the media have said far too little," said Smith.

At the National Prayer Breakfast in February, President Barack Obama’s speech was about religious freedom abroad.

“No society can truly succeed unless it guarantees the rights of all its peoples, including religious minorities, whether they’re Ahmadiyya Muslims in Pakistan, or Baha’i in Iran, or Coptic Christians in Egypt," said President Obama.

“We were really encouraged because at the prayer breakfast, he came out with a very strong statement. Very encouraging. But you look at the followup to that and there hasn’t been any," said Jeff King.

Lobbyist Jeff King says Christians are persecuted around the world and President Obama should act.

“He’s very vocal on the subject of the persecution of the gay community," he said.

But King says the president did not even bring up discrimination against Christians in his meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, where churches are banned.

U.S. foreign policy already prioritizes minority rights, says former Mideast envoy Dennis Ross. But he says the plight of Christians might need a special focus.

“If there’s concern it hasn’t been addressed enough, that in itself suggests maybe it should be addressed more," said Ross.

But activists concede it’s hard to press the issue because in the West, Christians are not widely seen as a vulnerable minority.
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