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Egypt

The toppling of the Islamist president Mohammed Morsi on 3 July 2013 after a popular uprising raised hopes that the condition of Christians in Egypt might improve. In the short term, however, it was the trigger for a furious backlash against them by angry Islamists. At the height of the reprisals in mid-August, at least 16 Christians were killed and some 60 church buildings destroyed, as well as countless Christian homes and businesses. In the Islamist stronghold of Minya, Christian properties were marked for destruction with a black X.

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Mariam Ashraf Messeiha (8) was killed in a drive-by attack on a Christian wedding in 2013
Source: Morning Star News

Sporadic attacks have continued since. In October four Christians, including two children, were killed in Cairo in a drive-by shooting that targeted wedding guests. Many Christians have been kidnapped for ransom and others forced to pay protection money to Islamists in the form of jizya, the traditional Islamic tax on Christians and Jews.

But the churches continue to hope for better times ahead. A new constitution was approved in a referendum in January 2014; it replaces the Islamist-sponsored code that was pushed through by Morsi at the end of 2012 and strengthens rights and freedoms. It enshrines the equality of all citizens and prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religion, belief, sex, race and other factors. Christians and other minorities are granted greater political representation.

Freedom of belief is declared “absolute”, while freedom to practise religion and establish places of worship is granted to Christians (and Jews) as well as Muslims. The constitution requires Parliament to issue a law that would relax the longstanding restrictions on the building and renovation of churches so as to allow Christians to worship freely.

It is a remarkable turnaround after Islamists appeared to be consolidating their grip on power following the Arab Spring of 2011, and the country’s Christian minority were facing the grim prospect of life in an Islamic state. There was a surge of violent attacks against them, and an escalation in the number of Christian women being kidnapped, forcibly converted to Islam and married against their will to a Muslim man. The number of blasphemy cases, in which some Christians were jailed for allegedly insulting Islam, also increased. The regime was failing to offer them adequate protection or bring their assailants to justice.

Egyptian Christians have suffered centuries of discrimination, and most of the wealthier Christians have left the country in the last few decades. Those Christians who remain largely live in extreme poverty. Converts from Islam are acutely vulnerable.

The Church in Egypt is one of the oldest in the world. Egypt’s former capital Alexandria was one of the great Christian centres until 640 AD, when the country was invaded by Muslim Arabs. Today there are an estimated eight to ten million Christians; around 90% of the population are Muslims.

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    • Iraqi Christians are losing even previously safe havens under the relentless assault of ISIS. On 25 June, the militant group attacked the historic Christian town of Qaraqosh, near Mosul, driving its mainly Christian population of around 40,000 to flee. Many Christians from Mosul had gone there after the fall of their own city earlier in the month. Kurdish forces were able to repel ISIS from the town, allowing some people to return to their homes for the time being, but their security remains extremely precarious. Pray that the ISIS advance will be stopped and that the Iraqi security forces will be able to regain the captured territory. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed 16 hours ago

    • Heavenly Father, we cry out to You for the Christians left in Mosul, mostly elderly and sick, as they now face the threat of sharia penalties introduced by ISIS: the amputation of limbs for thieves, crucifixion for criminals and the death penalty for apostasy. We pray that You will protect them from the brutality of the militants. We pray for peace and healing for those who have already been threatened or attacked, and for the safe return of those who have been kidnapped. We pray too for those struggling to pay the humiliating jizya tax that the militants have imposed. We ask that the attempt to restore a united Islamic state under one ruler in the cross-border territory controlled by ISIS will come to nothing. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Tue, Aug 2014 00:00

    • The militant jihadist group ISIS launched a terrifying attack on Mosul, the second city of Iraq, on 6 June. They seized weapons, freed prisoners and looted and torched church buildings. Three days later, police came to senior church leaders there and advised the Christian community to leave. They fled immediately, leaving everything behind as they sought refuge in the Nineveh valley. The following day Mosul fell to the rebels. Barnabas sent emergency aid to support the Christians in their desperate need. The militants then advanced south, prompting Christians also to leave the city of Kirkuk. Pray for provision and protection for our displaced brothers and sisters and that they will find safety in the Kurdish areas of northern Iraq. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Mon, Aug 2014 00:00

    • Give thanks that Barnabas Aid is helping many Christian families from Aleppo, Syria, to survive. One group of over 240 families originally lived in one of the city’s poorest neighbourhoods, but on Good Friday 2013, rebels invaded their area, forcing them to flee. They lost all their possessions on that day and have been living as displaced persons. The families have been receiving monthly food packages and milk powder for the children for almost two years now, as well as regular additional packages containing essentials such as blankets, shoes and seasonal clothes. Pray that our partner will be able to continue getting the aid to those who need it most. Pray too that the displaced families may experience God’s nearness through their ordeal. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sun, Aug 2014 00:00

    • As the Syrian civil war rages on, the militant Islamist group the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) now controls extensive territory in eastern Syria. The group is acutely hostile to Christians, who are suffering grievous oppression under its rule. The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has named Syria as one of the world’s worst violators for the first time, saying that the crisis “has devolved largely into a sectarian conflict” and “represents one of the worst situations in the world for religious freedom”, with abuses being committed by all sides. Before the war, it was easier to be a Christian in Syria than almost anywhere else in the Arab world. Pray that the US and other Western governments will continue to work for a resolution of the conflict and for religious freedom for all Syria’s citizens. Subscribe to the prayer points rss feed Sat, Aug 2014 00:00

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