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5559Chicago Copts Tut Demo Draws Major Media

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  • Rev Fr John Brian
    Jun 6, 2006
      From: susan@...

      The following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, one of the leading
      news dailies in the U.S.

      Coptic Christians take aim at bias in Egypt

      By Margaret Ramirez
      Tribune religion reporter
      Published May 26, 2006

      Under the shadow of immense gold banners heralding the opening of the King
      Tut exhibit, dozens of Coptic Orthodox Church members from across the
      Chicago area gathered Thursday outside the Field Museum to protest religious
      discrimination against fellow Christians in Egypt.

      Some demonstrators hoisted wooden staffs with crosses, while others wore
      crucifixes around their necks or carried American flags as they chanted:
      "We all stand tall, equality for all."

      The crowd of about 80 included members of the three area Coptic Orthodox
      churches: St. Mark in Burr Ridge, St. Mary in Palatine and St. George in
      Monee. With heavy media attention surrounding the Tut exhibit, the Coptic
      community saw an opportunity to raise awareness about the plight of
      Christians in their homeland.

      "We need to be recognized as people and we need to be heard," Atef MacKar
      said. "It is important to show that we are the Copts, we are sons and
      daughters of King Tut and we will not tolerate seeing our sisters and
      brothers persecuted in Egypt."

      MacKar, who lives in Downers Grove and attends St. Mark, said the protest
      was planned to coincide with the visit of an Egyptian delegation for the
      exhibit opening. Protest leaders said their goal was to send a message to
      U.S. politicians that foreign aid to Egypt should be contingent on religious
      freedom and human rights.

      Another protester, Cameel Halim, said the rise of Islamic fundamentalism has
      worsened the situation for Egypt's Coptic community.

      "I get sad when I visit Egypt now," he said. "The Copts have lost their
      pride. Spirit is down. They are isolated from society."

      The Coptic Orthodox Church was founded by St. Mark the Evangelist in the
      city of Alexandria around A.D. 43. The Copts make up about 12 percent of
      Egypt's population of 77.5 million.

      Discrimination and human rights abuses against Coptic Christians remain
      widespread in Egypt, according to a report released this month by the U.S.
      Commission on International Religious Freedom. Copts face societal
      intolerance, and Egyptian authorities have been accused of being lax in
      protecting their rights.

      No Christians serve as governors, presidents or deans of public
      universities, and very few Christians hold positions in the upper ranks of
      the security services and the armed forces, Coptic community leaders said.
      A 14th Century law bars Christians not only from building new churches, they
      said, but also from performing necessary maintenance on structures without
      government approval.

      Recent violence in Coptic churches in Egypt has renewed fears of escalating
      religious strife. In April, a Muslim man was accused of knife attacks at
      three Coptic Christian churches in Alexandria that left one man dead and
      about a dozen others wounded. The incident unleashed three days of rioting
      on the same weekend Christians were observing Orthodox Palm Sunday.

      Anissa Essam Hassouna, an official with the Egyptian Council for Foreign
      Affairs and part of the Egyptian delegation visiting Chicago, said Thursday
      that the government has "neglected" the issue of how Copts are treated in
      Egypt but "is trying to do better."

      "This will continue to be a sensitive issue until a law comes out and says
      everyone has real rights," she said.

      Another protester at the Field, Magdy Gergis, said he was unsure what effect
      the protest would have but hoped it would educate the public.

      "At least the problem will be exposed to people," Gergis said. "At least we
      will show our sadness and suffering. Some people here in America have an
      idea of what is happening with the Copts. But since many of us still have
      family there, we live it and feel it every day."



      Copyright C 2006, Chicago Tribune