- (Reuters/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
An American theologian says violence in Egypt mirrors the persecution of Christians 2,000 years ago.
“Coptic Christians and other believers in the Middle East must cling to the powerful truth of the risen Christ in these days as they possibly face the same persecution that Mark wrote about 2000 years ago,” wrote Dr. Michael A. Milton, chancellor-elect of Reformed Theological Seminary.
According to Milton, St. Mark spread Christianity to Egypt in AD 42, where it flourished until it was eventually driven out by Muslim forces.
“Now Mark’s Gospel must be retold to the very church he likely founded in Egypt,” wrote Milton.
Politicians alike contend that Egypt’s strict military regime currently in control of the government poses danger to both religious plurality and international affairs. Egypt has recently stunted friendly relations with Israel, and the violence that took place in Cairo has upset many international groups.
President Barack Obama has released a statement urging peace and compromise “so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.”
Similarly, Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, commented: “It is about time that the Egyptian leadership understands the importance of religious plurality and tolerance."
Milton told The Christian Post that this uprising could prove positive for Christianity, saying that the Christian uprising could be a "vehicle for renewal and strengthening of the Christian Church in the Middle East."
Violence erupted in Cairo Sunday when Christians gathered to protest against the Sept. 30 burning of a Coptic church in Southern Aswan. The burning was allegedly carried out local hardline Muslims who claimed the church did not have the license for the construction of a dome.
Although intended to be peaceful, violence broke out when military personnel commenced a crackdown on Sunday's protest.
Out of the 26 that died in Sunday’s clashes, at leas three were soldiers from the Egyptian military. The Egyptian government is blaming the violence on the Christian protesters and “enemies of the revolution.”
At a press conference, generals from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces claimed the Christians committed “savage” acts of violence against the military.
Mourners, meanwhile, are blaming the Egyptian army for the high death toll, arguing that the Christian march on Sunday was absolutely peaceful until the military started a crackdown. The ensuing clashes reportedly saw Islamic extremists join the attacks against the Christians and even saw a military vehicle driven directly into crowds of protesters.
One rights activist saw a soldier fire his gun into the crowd.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is demanding an impartial investigation on the source of violence for Sunday’s clashes, and Egypt’s military rulers have already met with Christian leaders to discuss compromise.
Thousands of Coptic Christians gathered in the Coptic Cathedral of Cairo on Monday to mourn those killed. Prayers for peace were intermingled with chants for justice; some attendees cried for an end to military dictatorship.
Milton and Christian organizations around the world urge the importance of prayer for finding peace in Egypt.
“We need to conquer evil with good. ... We pray for the salvation of the world," American Coptic Saad Michael Saad said, according to The Huffington Post.
Milton maintains an optimistic perspective in light of the violent turmoil.
"The hope within all of this is that the very thing that seeks to destroy becomes the thing that advances us," Milton told CP.
“The instrument of shame becomes the instrument of glory," he added.
Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. In recent months, Christians have been anxious about their future in the country, as Islamic groups that remained underground or inactive during the rule of the now-ousted president Hosni Mubarak, became more socially and politically active following the fall of the regime in the Jan. 25 revolution.
Since the revolution, 10,000 Christians have evacuated Egypt.