News / Middle East

Concern Over Attacks on Middle East Christians Grows in Washington

Concern Over Attacks on Middle East Christians Grows in Washingtoni
|| 0:00:00
Jerome Socolovsky
April 17, 2014 7:59 PM
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. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Last August, the bloody crackdown on a Muslim Brotherhood protest camp in Cairo by Egyptian security forces drew international condemnation.

But less attention was paid to the scores of Coptic churches set ablaze and destroyed in the days that followed.

Paul Marshall of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom says it was “the worst pogrom on Christians in Egypt for about 700 years.”

Across the Middle East, Christian minorities have been targeted in conflicts that ensued from what were supposed to be transitions to democracy.

Some Western leaders, including Pope Francis and Prince Charles, have expressed concern about the threat to Christians in the region that gave birth to the faith. And yet, in the United States, it has drawn relatively little attention outside of a few Christian groups and lawmakers.

Republican Congressman Christopher Smith has chaired several hearings on the matter recently.

“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,” he told a House of Representatives subcommittee at one of the hearings.

But activists concede it’s hard to press the issue because in the West, Christians are not widely seen as a vulnerable minority. Hisham Melhem of Al Arabiya Television says the issue has little traction on both sides of the American political divide.

“The plight of the Christians may be lost on the left because they [the victims] are too Christian, and lost on the rightist groups, the conservative groups here, because they are foreign,” he says.

Melhem, a Maronite Christian from Lebanon, spoke at a recent discussion at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, titled “The Impact of Middle East Transitions on Christian Communities.”

He expressed frustration that “no one in America” accepts any responsibility for the Christian flight from Iraq, where the population is one-third the pre-U.S. invasion figure.

“After all, a large number of Iraqi Christians were forced to leave Iraq, when we as Americans had 150,000 men and women in Iraq,” he says.

There are fears of a similar decline in Syria, where the kidnapping of a group of Greek Orthodox nuns raised fears in the minority Christian community that they were being targeted by extremists among the anti-government fighters. They were released in March.

At the National Prayer Breakfast in February, President Barack Obama devoted his speech to 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,” he said.

“We were really encouraged because at the prayer breakfast, he came out with a very strong statement,” said Jeff King of International Christian Concern, which runs the website

“But you look at the followup to that and there hasn’t been any,” he adds, noting that the president did not even bring up discrimination against Christians in his recent meeting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, where churches are banned.

King says President Obama “is very vocal on the subject of the persecution of the gay community” in other countries, even though he says Christians have been more frequent targets of killings.
Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypti
Jerome Socolovsky
April 17, 2014 8:10 PM
Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.

At St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in suburban Washington, many churchgoers were alarmed at the latest report from Egypt of a young Coptic woman who was murdered by a Cairo mob who saw a crucifix hanging in her car windshield.

Reports of Coptic women being kidnapped and raped worry Sandy Salamon, who immigrated to the U.S. at the age of eight. She says they are meant to humiliate the Copts as a people.

“It’s a weapon that - when that piece of your humanity is attacked, it’s very hard to …  fight back,” she said, adding that the humiliation is part of daily life.  

She recalls visiting Cairo just after the revolution, being out on the street with her mother and aunt.

“I’m not veiled. So, I’m walking down, clearly a Christian,” she said. “The looks, the language, even the body language is very threatening.”

Copts are the largest Christian minority in the region, and they say their church predates the arrival of Islam in the 7th century. According to Coptic tradition, it was established in the first century by Mark the Evangelist - a disciple of Jesus.

American-born priest Paul Girguis says that since the beginning, Copts have known martyrdom and suffering.

“There was an emperor that said, ‘I’m going to massacre the Christians until the blood in the streets reaches to the knees of my horse.’”

Still he says Copts are “a very resilient people,” and if they survived 20 centuries, they will overcome the hardships of the 21st.

Jerome Socolovsky

Jerome Socolovsky is the award-winning religion correspondent for the Voice of America, based in Washington. He reports on the rapidly changing faith landscape of the United States, including interfaith issues, secularization and non-affiliation trends and the growth of immigrant congregations.

You May Like

800-Pound Man Determined to Slim Down

Man says he was kicked out of hospital for ordering pizza; wants to be an actor More

Australia Prepares to Resettle 12,000 Syrian Refugees

Preference will be given to refugees from persecuted minorities, and the first group is expected to arrive before late December More

S. African Miners Seek Class Action Suit Against Gold Mines

The estimated 100,000 say say they contracted the lung diseases silicosis and tuberculosis in the mines More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs