Catholic and Orthodox Bishops Reflect on Persecution of Christians in Egypt

Inside the offices of Bishop Anba Makarios, leader of the Orthodox Coptic Christians in Al Minya, Egypt. (Credit: Christopher White/Crux.)

Two bishops, one Catholic, the other Orthodox, have remarkably different takes on how Christians are being treated in what is considered to be one of the hotbeds of Christian persecution in Egypt.

170 miles south of Cairo sits Minya, a Nile city known as the “jewel of Upper Egypt,” which includes the highest percentage of Christians in one place, roughly a third of its population of 6 million. The majority of the population is illiterate, which has also contributed to widespread unemployment, and Christian social service providers operate the bulk of the region’s schools and clinics.

For Bishop Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, leader of the region’s Catholics, he believes “the Catholic Church has no problems in Al-Minya.” By contrast, Bishop Anba Makarios, leader of the region’s Coptic Orthodox Church, says, “the highest percentage of Christian murders in Egypt come from Minya” and he believes the Egyptian state should look into the roots of such hostility, and not merely deal with it at a surface level.

“There is a difference with dealing with the symptoms and dealing with the root causes,” he insists.

Both bishops spoke last month to a group of Catholic journalists and educators, including Crux, sponsored by the Philos Project, an organization dedicated to “promoting positive Christian engagement in the Middle East.”

Throughout the city, 18-foot tall cutouts of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi dot the landscape with various Arabic inscriptions meant to shore up support for Sisi’s security efforts.

“We are all with you for Egypt,” reads one sign outside of a popular hotel for tourists.

Yet Sisi’s focus on improved security has not come without criticism, particularly his crackdown on journalists, mass arrests, and the charge by some Coptic Christians that he has used them as political pawns – claiming to offer them greater freedom of religion, while making them dependent on the state, and his rule, for their protection.

Minya is, in some respects, a microcosm for the tensions that exist throughout the country, as it continues to reinvent itself following the aftershocks of the 2011 Arab Spring revolution.

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SOURCE: Crux Now, Christopher White