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Coptic Christians reportedly nominated for Nobel Peace Prize

COPTIC CHRISTIANS
MOHAMED EL-SHAHED | AFP
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Group said to be named for their refusal to retaliate for violence committed against them.

The Copts of Egypt have reportedly been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

The Nobel committee does not release the names of individuals or groups nominated for its prestigious awards. But an organization called Coptic Orphans announced the nomination through a press release.

“Coptic Christians have been nominated for the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for their refusal to retaliate against deadly and ongoing persecution from governments and terrorist groups in Egypt and elsewhere,” the organization said. “The Copts, who are the indigenous people of Egypt and number as many as 20 million around the world, have been the victims of centuries of violence and oppression for practicing their Christian faith, chiefly in Egypt.”

Coptic Orphans said that although organizations such as the Red Cross have won the Peace Prize, it has never been awarded to an ethno-religious group. “This is believed to be the first time such a group has been so nominated,” the group said.

This year, 216 individuals and 115 organizations have been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, according to the Catholic Herald. The award’s recipient will be announced Oct. 5.

Copts have suffered much in recent years from Islamist violence in Egypt, where several churches have been bombed, including on Christmas Eve, and other places, such as Libya, the site of the beheading by ISIS of 21 Coptic Christians. The Church has canonized them as martyrs.

The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom has given Egypt mixed marks in its latest report, placing the country on the second tier of “Countries of Particular Concern.”

“In 2017, despite a deteriorating human rights situation overall, including arrests of political dissidents and journalists, religious freedom conditions in Egypt largely remained the same as in 2016,” the report said. “President Abdelfatah al-Sisi continued his overtures to promote religious tolerance, including attending Coptic Christmas Eve Mass for the fourth consecutive year.” The report continued:

The government also continued its education curriculum reform process and planned to revamp the entire education system. The Egyptian government prioritized the construction and reconstruction of several prominent non-Muslim houses of worship, including St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo and the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria, but as of early 2018, only 53 out of the 5,540 churches that applied had received approvals for renovation, construction, or registration under the 2016 Church Construction Law.

USCIRF added that judicial cases against Egyptians on the grounds of blasphemy against Islam increased in 2017.

“In addition, human rights groups reported more than 120 sectarian attacks, including mob attacks against Christians and churches, and the lack of effective prosecution of perpetrators remained a serious concern,” the report said. “A series of attacks in 2017 by affiliates of the terrorist group the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) targeted houses of worship, including Egypt’s deadliest attack on a Sufi mosque, in Sinai, that resulted in the deaths of 305 people, and bombings and attacks against churches and Christians that resulted in almost 100 deaths and hundreds of injuries.”

Persecution of Coptic Christians has resonated amid the Egyptian immigrant community of the United States, where there is a growing presence of Coptic Christians. The Archdiocese of North America includes more than 200 Coptic Orthodox churches. There is also a Coptic Catholic Church, which is much smaller both in Egypt and the United States.

Tawadros II, the Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the See of St. Mark, is on a pastoral visit to parishes in the U.S. through October 11. He presided over the consecration of two Coptic Orthodox churches in New Jersey, for example: St. Mina’s in Holmdel, on September 22, and Archangel Michael in Howell, on September 23.

“The 2017 Palm Sunday Church bombings that included St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral in Alexandria and St. George’s in Tanta killed 47 believers,” said Rep. Christopher Smith of New Jersey, at an event welcoming the patriarch. “The bombing in Alexandria took place just minutes after Pope Tawadros departed the Cathedral to monitor the earlier bombing in Tanta. There was the Minya bus attack that claimed the lives of 29 people on pilgrimage to the Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor. And all the world was outraged and mourned the beheading and martyrdom of 21 Coptic men by ISIS on a Libyan beach.”

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