Christians hope for Egypt's new constitution, but the proof will be in how they are treated

Egypt's season of political turmoil could not end  soon enough for the country's Christian community.  As Egyptians vote on a referendum on the new, revised constitution, concerns about the persecution of Christians continue. 

In December, The St. Charles Institute considered the rise of kidnappings in Egypt and other parts of the Middle East as a tool being used by radicals to persecute Christians.  Last week's article from Christianity Today suggests these kidnappings are increasing. Often, young girls are the victims.  State neglect, extreme financial extortion, and grave injustice characterize these attacks: 

In 2011, Nadia Makram, 13, was walking home from church near her working-class Cairo neighborhood when she vanished.

Her mother, Martha, went to the police, who refused to file a report. Soon after, Martha received a call demanding $15,000. She went back to the police, who registered a complaint but noted only Nadia's disappearance.

When the police did nothing, Martha gathered money from family and friends and traveled to a village 65 miles south.

Martha met Nadia's 48-year-old kidnapper in the home of the local mayor. After she handed over the money, the men showed her what they called a "marriage certificate." Nadia, they said, had converted to Islam and married her abductor. Martha left empty-handed—an increasingly common story among Coptic Christians. Abductions have increased sharply in the past few months.

Nadia's case is being followed by the Association for Victims of Abductions and Enforced Disappearances (AVAED), which has documented 500 similar cases since the 2011 revolution. Hers appears to be a straight kidnapping, but AVAED says these are only a small proportion of disappearances. Sixty percent of them begin with a love relationship built on false pretenses.

"The girls are told, 'What will your family do to you if you go back to them? Convert to Islam so we can be together,' " said Ebram Louis, founder of AVAED. Kept against their will, Louis says, some of the girls are later found in brothels.

For the most part, it seems that Christians have expressed optimism for the new Constitution.  There is hope of a new day in Egypt, where all citizens, regardless of their faith, will enjoy justice and equality before the law. To have a text of a Constitution that suggests minority rights will be respected is a critical first step. 

Certainly, the new constitution appears to be much more favorable in the sight of Egyptian minorities.  Article 235 of the new constitution requires the House of Representatives to "issue a law to organize building and renovating churches, guaranteeing Christians the freedom to practice their religious rituals."  The building and repair of churches has long been a tool used to suppress Christian worship in Egypt, and for years has required the issuance of special permits at the approval of the President and/or local governing officials.  Since the attacks on Christian churches this past August damaged or destroyed over 70 churches, this article is of critical importance. 

Another reason for hope is the controversial Article 219 from the previous Constitution has been eliminated, comforting to those concerned about a heavy role for Islamic law in society. 

Yet still others remain cautious.  It will be the realization of these rights that will determine the future place of Christians in Egyptian society.  Some scholars, like Zaid al-Ali of the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, are not quite convinced:

"Thus, those seeking stronger rights for vulnerable groups will find significant comfort in this text. However, anyone hoping for specific mechanisms for those rights to be enforced will be sorely disappointed. After all, without democratic, effective, transparent and accountable institutions to enforce rights, they will remain just as theoretical as they did under the 1971 constitution, which is something that Egypt can ill afford today."

Truly, the proof of a "new Egypt" will be in the future society's treatment of women, Christians, and other minorities.

Please join The Institute in prayer for Egypt.  Pray for peace, stability, and security for the country.  Pray that the future elections mandated by the referendum will lead to the election of leaders that are good, fair and just.  Finally, pray that the institutions necessary for a just and equal society for all Egyptian citizens, including Christians, will be established and take hold with deep roots.