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Delegation Head Says Reports of Persecution Of Egypt’s Christians Are ‘Overstated’

BY Jim Cosgrove

April 05-11, 1998 Issue | Posted 4/5/98 at 2:00 PM

 

NEW YORK—The leader of a delegation of U.S. pastors who visited Egypt early last month has declared that reports of mass persecution of Christians in the predominantly Muslim country are “grossly overstated.”

Recently the U.S. media have claimed that Christians in Egypt face persecution, but Calvin Butts III, president of the New York City Council of Churches and leader of the delegation from the Council that visited Egypt March 10-15, told journalists at a press conference yesterday that he had found no evidence of government-sanctioned persecution of Christians.

The delegation met leading politicians and diplomats and religious leaders—Protestant, Orthodox, and Muslim.

Butts, a black clergyman and pastor of the most prominent Church in New York's Harlem district, the Abyssinian Baptist Church, said his experience in the United States convinced him that a minority group would always suffer some measure of discrimination, and he had found some matters of concern in Egypt.

According to the World Churches Handbook, published in London, about 8.7 million of Egypt's 61 million citizens are Christians. The biggest Church is the Coptic Orthodox Church, which has about 8 million followers.

“Isolated incidents” sometimes occurred in Egypt, Butts said, but Christian leaders there told the delegation that relations with Muslims were good, and that the government was not “turning a blind eye” to offenses against Christians.

Butts said that the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III of Alexandria, Patriarch of the Holy See of St. Mark, told the delegation that any conflicts between Christians and Muslims were “best resolved by Muslims and Christians in Egypt.”

Asked what American Church leaders might do, Pope Shenouda, who is also a president of the World Council of Churches, advised them to go home and deal with “troubles among your own young people,” Butts said.

Many Church leaders in the Middle East have deep misgivings about foreigners and foreign governments, particularly the U.S. government, exerting pressure for better treatment of Christians in the region. Such interventions could, they believe, cause harm by politicizing interfaith relationships and arousing local resentment against Christians as the supposed cause of the foreign pressures.

Representatives of a U.S. organization, the American Coptic Union, which has made serious claims about the treatment of Egyptian Christians, attended the press conference, and insisted yesterday that acts against Egyptian Christians were not “isolated incidents,” but occurred regularly. They insisted that officials of the Egyptian government did not give equal protection to Christians, but acted in collaboration with terrorists attacking Christians.

Butts disagreed with their claims and said the delegation found no need for a “crusade” to deliver Egyptian Christians from persecution. (ENI)