Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Keeping the faith in the shadow of persecution

In Egypt, converts to Christianity are facing a number of challenges for refusing to deny their faith in Jesus and embrace Islam. They can be rejected from their families and communities, harassed by authorities and even imprisoned. Some believers remain in the country, despite such difficult conditions, and some flee out of fear for their lives. The following article is the story of an Egyptian Christian man who was arrested, beaten and jailed for his conversion from Islam to Christianity:

Keeping the faith in the shadow of persecution


FOR the past two years, ''Mina'' has regularly phoned his mother in Egypt. But the 36-year-old is so scared for the safety of his family here and in Egypt that he has not told her he lives in Australia, instead letting her believe he is in the United States.

It is a fiction devised out of fear that Egypt's security police will track him down or persecute his family in Egypt in retaliation for defying them and fleeing the country.

What brought Mina to their attention was his conversion at age 21 to the Coptic Orthodox Christian faith, which meant turning his back on Islam, the dominant, state-sanctioned religion.

He was arrested and beaten numerous times, then thrown in a room with Islamic radical prisoners who were encouraged to beat him, his Melbourne lawyer, Jimmy Morcos, said.

Mina is one of 70,000 Coptic Orthodox Christians who have fled persecution in Egypt and resettled in Australia since 1971, according to their bishop in Victoria, Bishop Suriel.

He is also one of 12,000 people expected to march to the Egyptian consulate in the city tomorrow to protest over the killing of six Coptic Orthodox Christians in a drive-by shooting in Egypt last month.

The killings are the latest in a catalogue of attacks on Copts in Egypt dating back more than a decade. Even now, the climate of fear is so strong that Mina refuses to publicly reveal his real name for fear of repercussions.

Australia granted him a humanitarian visa in 2003 but Egyptian authorities seized his passport and stopped him from leaving the country six times.

He said he was eventually taken to a prison.

''I saw a person with a blindfold over his eyes and he was hit and there was shouting and he was as taken to a dark place,'' he said.

Mina said he was told this would happen to him if he did not recant, and that leaving Islam was ''a big crime''.

He had to report to the security officials every week to rethink his stance.

In 2007, a way was found to get him to Australia to rejoin his wife and children who had left ahead of him.

Mr Morcos said that international pressure needed to be brought on Egypt to guarantee the human rights of Copts, who make up 18 per cent of the country's population.

Bishop Suriel said the protest would also call on the Australian Government to break its silence on the attacks on Copts in Egypt which has drawn wide condemnation round the world, including from the Pope.

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