UC Irvine’s Coptic Orthodox Christian Club hosted its “I Am Egypt” event at HIB 100 on Friday, May 20.
Over 300 people gathered outside the lecture hall to hear various guest speakers, including Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles. The event also featured live music, an art exhibit and concluded a week-long program to raise awareness about the persecution of the Coptic faith in Egypt.
“This event is to raise awareness about the persecution that the Coptic Orthodox Christian are enduring in Egypt,” said senior political science major Pierre Demian. “It’s not something new, it’s been going on for quite a while, but it has increased after the revolution and the fall of the Mubarak regime. There was a power vacuum, and within it, we started experiencing a lot more discrimination and a lot more attacks.”
The term “Coptic” can be defined as “Egyptian” in the old Coptic language prevalent in Egypt before the perpetuation of the Arabic dialect. According to the Coptic faith, the church was founded by Saint Mark and was a major religion in Egypt until the arrival of Islam in 639 A.D. The term is now used to identify the religious and cultural group associated with the Orthodox Christian faith in Egypt, a group that has, to this day, remained a minority.
“Even though we are miles and miles away, even though we are in a country of immigration, we still feel for our brothers and sisters,” said Sandra Abdelmalak, a third-year English major and a member of the UCI Coptic Club. “For us, we don’t want to sit around and do nothing. We want to help in whatever way we can, and if that is by raising awareness and by letting people know what’s going, then that’s exactly what we are going to do.”
One of the key issues facing the Coptic Church is the ongoing religious struggle between the Copts and the Muslim majority in Egypt. Relations between the Coptic minorities and Egyptian Islam had always been tense, the history of the two religious factions marred by years of religious violence. In January 2010, Muslim extremists allegedly opened fire on Copts leaving midnight mass after celebrating Christmas Eve, which is celebrated on the 7th for Orthodox Christian faiths. Eight Copts and one Muslim bystander were killed by the gunmen in what would be known as the Nag Hammadi Massacre. The most recent event was the 2011 Alexandria Bombing, where a bomb exploded outside of the Church of Saint Mark in Alexandria, Egypt as thousands of Coptic Christians were leaving a midnight mass in celebration of the New Year, claiming the lives of 23 victims all of whom were Copts.
Persecution of Coptic Christians was prevalent but not unrestricted during the reign of President Hosni Mubarak. Although Christians and Muslims worked alongside each other in the protest against his regime, the fall of Mubarak in February marked a dire and grim situation for Copts, who now face unchecked persecution by the Islamic majority.
One of the main guest speakers during the event, Bishop Serapion of the Los Angeles Coptic Diocese, advised that the situation should be overcome through peaceful measures.
“We should overcome evil with good, not with evil,” Bishop Serapion said. He stated that the course of action for Coptic Christians now should be to expose the injustice to the world, challenge world leaders to do something about it and ask for lawful rights to be given to them in order to overcome this persecution.
For Ramez Fahmy, a politicial science major student at UCI, the event is vital in preaching about the religious intolerance and the injustice the Coptic Church faces.
“Just watching these videos and hearing some of these people performing their music and the art that is displayed out here, it really hits home,” said Fahmy. “It puts you on the verge of tears, and it’s something that really drives home the point of ending this religious intolerance that’s going on in Egypt.”