Chicago Copts Tut Demo Draws Major Media
- From: susan@...
The following article appeared in the Chicago Tribune, one of the leading
news dailies in the U.S.
DOZENS HOLD PROTEST OUTSIDE TUT EXHIBIT
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
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