Plight of Egyptian Christians still dire

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Plight of Egyptian Christians still dire

While persecution and conflict have exiled millions of Syrian and Iraqi Christians from their homes, less is known about the plight of Egypt’s Christians.

In Syria, Christians comprise around 2 200 000 of the population, and estimates place Iraqi Christians somewhere between 260 000 and 350 000, but in Egypt, which has by far the largest number of Christians in the Middle East, the figure soars to at least 8 million.

Yet, Christian persecution in Egypt continues to occur, according to Coptic [Egyptian] clergy and parishioners.

The ‘Coptic Orphans’ program works frequently with Egypt’s poor.

For program founder Nermien Riad, the plight of Egypt’s Christians, especially in Upper Egypt, is dire.

“Because of their location in some of Egypt's most impoverished governorates, Christians in Upper Egypt face many hardships, among them inflation's toll on their ability to buy food and shelter, and joblessness that robs them of income and stability,” Mrs Riad said.

“Often they have difficulty accessing government services, which undermines their basic rights.”

While the danger faced by Egyptian Christians may be seen to have decreased, Mrs Riad said violence was still an issue.

“Violence targeting Christians, while less widespread than in the past, continues to be a problem,” she said.

“Perhaps the biggest challenge they face is obtaining access to quality education from a school system that is increasingly unable to prepare students for the future.”

Speaking with American journalist John L Allen, in an interview with CRUX.com, Nabil Soliman of the small Upper Egyptian town of Nazlet el-Badraman, spoke of his victimisation at the hands of Islamist radicals.

“They told me to leave and not come back, and that they’d kill me if I did,” he said.

“I lost my job, my home, everything I owned… I have no pension, so the 24 years I worked are just gone.”

Like many Upper Egyptians, Mr El-Badraman is infected with Hepatitis C, and his desperate economic situation makes it difficult for him to afford treatment.

Egypt is an important seat of Christianity in the Arab world, with some estimates placing the number of Christians there as high as 10 million. The vast majority of Egyptian Christians are Orthodox, joined by around 250,000 Evangelicals and 300,000 Catholics.

Pope Tawadros, leader of Egypt's large Coptic Orthodox community, met with Pope Francis in an ecumenical gesture in May 2013.

There, Pope Francis spoke of the 'ecumenism of blood' that all Christians share, following the martyrdom of the Libyan Copts by ISIS extremists last year.