Coptic Christians Rally Worldwide for Believers in Egypt

Since last week's deadly Christmas Eve shootings in the Egyptian town of Nagaa Hammadi, demonstrations have been held in cities across the world and more are on their way.

On Saturday, hundreds of Coptic Christians took to the streets of Tampa, Fla., to protest what they described as 1,400 years of persecution of Copts in Egypt.

"We're raising our voices for those in authority to stop what is happening in Egypt to Christians," said the Rev. Moussa Saleh, leader of Tampa's St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, according to Tampa Bay Online.

One day earlier, Copts in northern Texas rallied in front of the Federal Building in Dallas to draw the attention of the world to the sufferings of Christians in Egypt and to call upon Muslim extremists to end the violence against their brethren in hopes that Copts in Egypt can enjoy the right to religious freedom.

They are also hoping that the Egyptian government "will take serious steps to deal fairly with all the issues and matters of this crime and other religious freedom subjects," according to rally organizers.

Last week, as Coptic Christians prepared to observe Christmas Day on Jan. 7, gunmen traveling in a car opened fire in a shopping district in Nagaa Hammadi and later in front of the southern Egyptian town's main church as worshipers emerged from midnight mass.

At least five Coptic Christians reportedly died from the shooting and at least seven others injured.

Though police arrested three men two days later, some Coptic Christians believe the Christmas Eve attacks will go unpunished or draw light sentences, as is frequently the case.

Christians in Egypt and elsewhere have often criticized local authorities in Egypt for their handling of such cases, with many increasingly accusing the Egyptian State Security and other security authorities of having a hand in many of the crimes taking place against the Copts in Egypt.

Some even say the latest attack was in retaliation to the victim church's refusal to participate in government-sponsored "reconciliation sessions" after a November 2009 attack by Muslims on Coptic properties.

According to the 2009 U.S. State Department Report on Egypt, "reconciliation sessions" are commonly used by the government to deter Coptic Christians from seeking justice following sectarian attacks.

The reconciliation sessions "generally obviated the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against Copts and precluded their recourse to the judicial system for restitution," the State Department noted.

The department also made mention of government torture and detention of Christians for no reason other than religion.

"Recently, there have been numerous reports of dozens of similar Muslim mob attacks on Christian homes and businesses that occurred in the presence of police," noted The Free Copts, which reports news on the persecution of Christians in Islamic countries.

"Additionally, reliable sources report that tens of Christians were unjustifiably taken into custody by the government in the days following the attack," it added.

Last week, over 100 Christian teens were reportedly arrested without warrants or reasons by security forces in Egypt, including some who were subjected to electric shocks. More recently, bloggers, democracy and religious freedom advocates traveling to Naga Hammadi were reportedly taken into custody, sparking immediate remarks from the U.S. State Department.

"The United States is deeply concerned by today's arrests of individuals traveling to the Egyptian town of Naga Hammadi to express support for those tragically killed and injured during Coptic Christmas celebrations on January 7," Acting Spokesman Mark C. Toner expressed in a statement Saturday.

"We call on the Government of Egypt to uphold the rights of all to peacefully express their political views and desires for universal freedoms and to ensure due process for those detained," he added.

Next week, rallies for Copts in Egypt will be held in New York, the District of Columbia, Tennessee, Arizona, France, Holland, Austria, New Zealand, Germany, Canada, Sweden, Greece and Australia.

Rallies with thousands of participants have already been held in Rome, California, Texas, Israel, and Cairo, among others.

"Copts throughout the world are speaking out about the lack of justice for Copts in Egypt," The Free Copts reported.

According to the CIA World Fact Book, about 9 percent of Egyptians are Coptic, or Christians that descended from the ancient Egyptians. Ninety percent of Egyptians, meanwhile, are Muslim.

Although Egypt's Christian population is small, it stands as the largest Christian community in the Middle East and is also among the oldest.

According to Egypt's constitution, Islam is the "religion of the state" and the country's "principle source of legislation."

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