For Amer­ica’s Copts, an ag­o­niz­ing watch and wait

The Washington Times Daily - - WORLD - BY ALEX ZIETLOW

The Star­bucks in the heart of Ge­orge Mason Univer­sity’s Fair­fax cam­pus is an ocean away from his an­ces­tral home­land, but the images sent from his 76,000 Face­book fol­low­ers pro­vide a stark and sad­den­ing re­minder of the plight fac­ing Michael Me­u­nier’s fel­low Cop­tic Chris­tians in Egypt these days.

Swip­ing through the images, Mr. Me­u­nier, the founder and pres­i­dent of the U.S. Copts As­so­ci­a­tion, says they tell the sto­ries of a string of re­cent rad­i­cal Is­lamic ter­ror at­tacks against the Copts, a mi­nor­ity group that con­sti­tutes about 10 per­cent of Egypt’s pop­u­la­tion.

One shows a hosanna leaf, driz­zled with blood on a church floor. There are screen­shots of notes where fam­i­lies have re­quested fi­nan­cial sup­port af­ter learn­ing a par­ent was killed in an at­tack. Still oth­ers de­pict the af­ter­math of a church bomb­ing and a mas­sacre tar­get­ing Cop­tic bus pas­sen­gers, fea­tur­ing mounds of de­bris and throngs of dead adults and chil­dren.

Mr. Me­u­nier said he can’t help but feel dis­heart­ened as he learns about the es­ca­lat­ing po­lit­i­cal vi­o­lence against his fel­low Copts. In an in­ter­view, he said the U.S. gov­ern­ment can do more to re­spond to the ter­ror­ist at­tacks that have killed more than 100 Copts since De­cem­ber — in­clud­ing pass­ing a re­li­gious free­dom bill that autho­rizes sanc­tions and other penal­ties in the face of re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion abroad.

“Egypt eco­nom­i­cally is in deep trou­ble, so we don’t want to pe­nal­ize it at this stage, so peo­ple don’t think that we in the U.S. are try­ing to un­der­mine their liveli­hood in Egypt,” Mr. Me­u­nier said. But, he added, “there can­not be a trade­off be­tween a good re­la­tion­ship with Egypt at the ex­pense of Chris­tians.”

The only per­ma­nent so­lu­tion to re­mov­ing the shadow of ter­ror­ism af­fect­ing the Copts would be for the gov­ern­ment of Egyp­tian Pres­i­dent Ab­del-Fat­tah el-Sissi to ban Is­lamist teach­ings that de­mo­nize Chris­tians. And that, of course, can only be en­forced within the state.

“On one hand, [the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment] complains to the out­side world that they are a vic­tim of ter­ror­ism and they’re be­ing bombed and they want some help,” he said. “On the other hand, inside, they’re not stop­ping the flow of fu­ture ter­ror­ists com­ing through those teach­ings.”

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has re­peat­edly said that de­feat­ing ter­ror­ist groups like Is­lamic State — which has claimed credit for at least some of the re­cent strikes tar­get­ing Egypt’s Cop­tic Chris­tians — is the “high­est pri­or­ity.”

“The blood­let­ting of Chris­tians must end, and all who aid their killers must be pun­ished,” Pres­i­dent Trump said in a state­ment af­ter the most re­cent at­tack on May 26.

Cur­rently, Mr. Me­u­nier, who has headed the U.S. Copts As­so­ci­a­tion for 22 years, runs an in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy com­pany and uses the as­so­ci­a­tion to educated Amer­i­cans about the Copts’ per­se­cu­tion. He has been an ac­tivist through­out his life, spear­head­ing the cre­ation of the Al-Hayat po­lit­i­cal party in Egypt, form­ing two NGOs (U.S. Copts As­so­ci­a­tion and “Hand-in-Hand”) and serving as a leader of the pop­ulist re­volt in the 2011 Egyp­tian Rev­o­lu­tion.

He es­ti­mated that there are over 40,000 peo­ple in the as­so­ci­a­tion’s data­base.

“I started this be­cause when I was in Egypt, I saw this hap­pen­ing first-hand,” Mr. Me­u­nier said. “I said, ‘I gotta do some­thing. I gotta ed­u­cate peo­ple. I gotta talk to Congress.’”

Egypt’s eco­nomic and se­cu­rity woes have led to a new in­flux of Copts mi­grat­ing to the United States in the chaos and in­sta­bil­ity that fol­lowed the 2011 up­ris­ing that ousted Hosni Mubarak, briefly in­stalled a Mus­lim Brother­hood­dom­i­nated gov­ern­ment and even­tu­ally led to a mil­i­tary coup that brought Mr. el-Sissi to power. There are now more than 200 parishes in the United States that serve the ex­pand­ing Cop­tic Ortho­dox pop­u­la­tion.

Michael Me­u­nier

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