FaithWorld

Italy blocks EU religious persecution text ignoring Christians

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(Christians protest against what they say is the failure of authorities to protect them, in Cairo January 3, 2011/Mohamed Abd El Ghany)

The European Union failed to agree on a statement against the persecution of religious minorities on Monday after Italy objected to the omission of any reference to the protection of Christians. Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini said a draft proposed at a meeting of EU foreign ministers expressing concern about increasing numbers of attacks on places of worship and pilgrims showed an “excess of secularism”.

“The final text didn’t include any mention of Christians, as if we were talking of something else, so I asked the text to be withdrawn, so in fact it has been withdrawn,” he told reporters.

France backed Italy on the need to include references to specific minorities, including Christians and Shi’ite Muslims, diplomats said.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton said the 27 EU ministers had agreed to “go back and reflect” on how, in the course of backing religious freedoms and tolerance, the bloc could “make sure we recognise individual communities of whatever religion who find themselves being harassed or worse”.

Top Sunni Islam authority al-Azhar halts dialogue with Vatican

al-azharThe highest authority of Sunni Islam, the Islamic University of al-Azhar in Cairo, has frozen all dialogue with the Roman Catholic Church over what it called Pope Benedict’s repeated insults towards Islam. Benedict this month condemned attacks on churches that killed dozens of people in Egypt, Iraq and Nigeria, saying they showed the need to adopt effective measures to protect religious minorities. (Photo: Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo, July 13, 2006/Suhaib Salem)

His remarks followed a New Year bombing outside a church in the Egyptian city of Alexandria that left 23 people dead and dozens injured and prompted demonstrations by both Christians and Muslims against sectarian violence. The pope urged Christian communities to persevere in a non-violent manner in the face of what he described as “a strategy of violence that has Christians as a target”.

Al-Azhar’s Islamic Research Council “reviewed in an emergency meeting on Thursday the repeatedly insulting remarks issued by the Vatican Pope towards Islam and his statement that Muslims are discriminating against others who live with them in the Middle East,” al-Azhar said in a statement. “The council decided to freeze dialogue between al-Azhar and the Vatican for an indefinite period,” it added.

Egypt sentences Muslim to death for Coptic shooting

coptic (Photo: Riot police stand guard near the Orthodox church in Alexandria, Egypt bombed during Orthodox Christmas Mass, January 6, 2011/Asmaa Waguih)

An Egyptian state security court on Sunday sentenced a Muslim man to death for killing six Coptic Christians and a Muslim police officer in a drive-by shooting on Coptic Christmas Eve in January 2010.

Mohamed Ahmed Hussein, 39, known as Hamam Kamouni, had been charged with the “premeditated murder” of the Christians and the police officer and with “intimidating citizens” in Nagaa Hamady in southern Egypt after mass on the eve of Coptic Christmas.

The judge said Hussein’s sentence would be sent to the Grand Mufti for confirmation, a reference to Egypt’s top religious authority who is called on to confirm death sentences.

Qaeda threat to Egyptian Christians may stir militants

egypt 1 (Photo: Demonstrators at the Amr Ibn El-Aas mosque in Cairo claiming a Christian woman had converted to Islam and was being held prisoner by a Christian church, September 5, 2010/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Militants may feel emboldened by an al Qaeda threat against Egypt’s Christians, even if the network itself might struggle to mount such an assault.

The al Qaeda-linked Islamic State of Iraq, which launched an attack on a Baghdad church on Sunday that left 52 dead, has also threatened Egypt’s church.

While there are no signs of a re-emergence of a 1990s-style Islamist insurgency, Egypt remains alert to anything that could stir communal tension that sometimes boils up over issues such as cross-faith relationships and conversions.

Arab Christians face political Islam threat-official says

synod bishops 1 (Photo: Bishops at a Mass opening of the synod of bishops from the Middle Eastern at the Vatican, 10  Oct 2010/Tony Gentile)

The rise of political Islam in the Middle East poses a threat to Christians in the Arab world and must be faced together, a senior cleric told a synod of Catholic bishops on Monday.

At the two week meeting to debate how to protect minority communities in the region and encourage harmony with Muslims, the Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria, Antonios Naguib, also said that attacks against Christians were on the rise due to growing fundamentalism in the region.

“Since 1970, we have witnessed the rise of political Islam in the region, consisting of many different religious currents, which has affected Christians, especially in the Arab world,” said Naguib. “This phenomenon seeks to impose the Islamic way of life on all citizens, at times using violent methods, thus becoming a threat which we must face together.”

Egypt Christians say intolerance grows, close ranks

coptsMinarets and church towers mingle on Cairo’s skyline, but tensions mar Egypt’s record of religious coexistence and a perception of growing intolerance is leading some Christians to shun their Muslim compatriots.

Amira Helmy, from a middle-class area of the capital, was brought up by a Muslim neighbour after her mother died and attended a state school alongside Muslim children. “Most of my friends were Muslims. We used to go on outings together and some would call to me from below my house so we could walk to school,” recalls Helmy with a smile. (Photo: Leader of Egypt’s Copts, Pope Shenouda (C), with fellow clergymen,June 8, 2010/Asmaa Waguih)

Now a housewife in her 40s, she sends her daughter Christine and son Kirollos to a private Christian school and forbids them from mingling with Muslim children to protect them from insults. Around a tenth of Egypt’s 78 million people are Christians, mostly Orthodox Copts — descendents of Christian communities that founded monasticism in the early centuries after Jesus.

Egypt prepares new marriage and divorce law for non-Muslims

coptEgypt will draft a new law to govern marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, a state newspaper reported, a move analysts see as an attempt to contain anger after a court overruled the Coptic Orthodox Church last month.

Egypt’s Coptic church has long called for changes to the country’s personal status laws, which say Islamic rules on marriage and divorce prevail except in cases where both husband and wife are non-Muslims and from the same religious denomination. Under the current law, for instance, a Catholic husband with a Coptic wife could be subject to Islamic law.

“The Egyptian Minister of Justice Mamdouh Marie has decided to form a committee to prepare a personal draft law for Christians and non-Muslims,” the state-run al-Akhbar newspaper reported, adding it would take 30 days.

Egypt court says Copts can remarry, church objects

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Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Church in Cairo, December 11, 2005/Tara Todras-Whitehill

An Egyptian court has ruled that divorced Copts have the right to remarry, contradicting the church’s position and undermining its efforts to maintain its authority over the Christian community in Muslim-majority Egypt.

Saturday’s administrative court decision was prompted by a rare intervention by Pope Shenouda, leader of Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church, who launched an appeal by the church against another court ruling made in March 2008 that had approved the request by the two divorced men to remarry.

Egyptian Christians want action on “insulting” novel

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Egyptian Copts celebrate the Feast of Assumption in Dronka, 400 km (310 miles) south of Cairo on August 21, 2008/Amr Dalsh

Egyptian Christians have called for government action against the author of a widely read novel they say insults Christianity, in an unusual case that puts freedom of expression in Muslim-majority Egypt under fresh scrutiny.  Government investigators are looking into the complaint filed by a group of Egyptian and some foreign Copts against Youssef Ziedan, a Muslim who wrote the 2008 award-winning novel Azazeel (Beelzebub).

Azazeel, which won the 2009 International Prize for Arabic Fiction, backed by the Booker Prize Foundation, tells the story of a 5th-century Egyptian monk who witnesses debates over doctrine between early Christians. Mamdouh Ramzi, a Coptic lawyer, said the author insulted priests and bishops and said many things with no proof or evidence from books or history … He is not a Christian man, what does he know about the Church?”

Shooting at Coptic Christmas highlights Egypt’s sectarian tensions

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Ramadan decorations and a Coptic Orthodox church cross in Nagaa Hamady, 9 Jan 2010/Asmaa Waguih

Church towers standing in the shadow of mosques symbolise how Christians in the southern town of Nagaa Hamady feel about their relationship with Egypt’s Muslim majority that turned violent this month.

The government said the shooting of six Christians on the eve of Coptic Christmas on Jan. 7 was an isolated case, using its stock phrase for the latest act of sectarian violence. Such killings are rare, but many Christians who make up some 10 percent of Egypt’s 78 million people feel they do not get equal treatment and complain the government is not doing more to quash sectarianism for fear of Islamist reprisals.