In Egypt, at least, the U.S.-based movement to extend religious human rights worldwide is running into resistance among the very group of Christians that it is claiming to help.
The Economist (May 23) reports that recent American legislation seeking to impose automatic sanctions against states America deems to have abetted or tolerated religious persecution is viewed negatively by Egyptian Muslim and Christian alike. Aside from the fear of losing $2.1 billion of American aid, Egyptian Coptic Christians fear that singling them out “for superpower intervention could have the effect of intensifying Egypt’s pervasive — though generally mild — discrimination against Christians.”
Suspicions about American motives cuts across the Christian-Muslim religious divide, with many see the recent bill as seeking to punish poor countries and maintain a “pro-Israel” prejudice in the Middle East.
The large Coptic emigrant community in the West takes a more critical position on Muslim discrimination against Christians in Egypt, and even Copts still living in the country admit there is “petty discrimination” in most sectors of Egyptian society. Yet such Egyptian Christians also point out that Coptic church is generally flourishing, with the government particularly eager to project a “conciliatory image.”
The success of the church and the growth of militant Islam (which has ignited cases of documented violence against Christians) may have led to the growth of a more religious and separatist Christian community among their Muslims neighbors. Just as Muslims turned against Christians in the face of “foreign meddling” during the crusades, Copts believe that Christian-Islamic antagonism could become inflamed with new forms of foreign intervention.