For America’s Copts, an agonizing watch and wait
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.