Stories from Egypt and Iraq

Me, in Tahrir square, Cairo

In May I had the opportunity to travel to Egypt and Iraq with International Christian Concern, an organizing dedicated to advocacy for the persecuted church. I was tagging along with a friend of mine, Aidan Clay, who is the North Africa/Middle East regional manager for the organization. My task was to capture photography and videography of the stories from persecuted Christians in both these countries.

Cairo city streets just before 2012 presidential election

The Arab Spring brought some freedom and democracy to North Africa and the Middle East. However, the western view of “democracy” with a separation of church and state doesn’t work as well in these highly religious countries. While the west hoped secular governments would arise to rule these countries in the void left by dictators, in every case an Islamist party was elected. Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Iraq, and now Syria looks fall the same direction

Most of these countries have an ancient Christian population. Sizable populations (10 million Coptic Christians in Egypt for example), but still a minority.

Iraqi man, Qaraqosh

In Baghdad, Iraq, before the 2003 war, there were 60 churches. Today there are only 6. A dictator was removed, yes, but the situation on the ground got much worse for Christians under democracy. Many Christians fled the country completely, if they had the means, or fled to Northern Iraq where the Kurdish government allows some religious freedom and more importantly, some protection. I talked to pastors there from Mosul and Kirkuk, cities that were too dangerous for us to visit as high-value-target-westerners, who told stories of car bombings and threats and terrible persecution in their community. Pastors who had patiently endured without fleeing like most of their congregation. Pastors with incredible faith and resolve and patience and forgiveness. Pastors who know how to love their enemy.

In Egypt, we were there one week before the landmark presidential elections. Christians were deeply concerned. The Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, went on to win the elections that week. The motto of the Brotherhood is “Allah is our objective; the Prophet is our leader; the Koran is our law; Jihad is our way; dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope.

Mokattam children

I spent a few days in Mokattam, also known as Garbage City. It’s a slum district of Cairo, where the 60,000 residents collect garbage for Cairo, a city of nearly 20 million people. They bring the garbage back to their homes, where entire families sort through and look for items that can be recycled or reused. It’s a district that is completely Christian, and has been for centuries.

A woman who lost her fiance in an attack on Christians in Cairo

On March 8 of last year, Coptic Christians from Mokattam gathered to protest the destruction of a nearby church. The Coptic protestors were met by a Muslim mob, both of whom threw stones at each other. The Egyptian military intervened by firing live ammunition at the Coptic protestors. 9 Christians died, hundreds were injured. I interviewed the families of those victims, as well as another coptic christian woman who lost her fiancein a different attack where 26 Christians were killed.

Click here for Andy’s photos from Iraq

One can see why Egypt’s Christians are worried: they are a minority without much of a voice.

That was why I was there with ICC. To give a voice to the underrepresented. And to produce videos that will be shown in congressional offices, so that our government, and others, will be challenged to put pressure on these governments to ensure freedom and protection for these minorities.

For further reading:

Click for Andy’s photos from Egypt

World Magazine: Outside the Camp

International Christian Concern’s articles on persecution in Cairo’s Mokattam slum

Christian security guards keep Karakosh, Iraq safe