Iskander Toss, who had lived all his life in the town of Delga in Upper Egypt, last week was kidnapped, severely beaten, and dragged on the dirt roads of the village until his spirit left him.
His crime? As in the Kenya mall massacre last week, he was a Christian.
A few days later, the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] jihadists opened his grave, pulled his body out, and dragged it through the village until the majority of the Coptic families fled in terror.
What is unique about Toss’s death is that people know is his name. Throughout the land of the Nile, murders like his are taking place on a regular basis.
Delga, located 150 miles south of Cairo, is one of the oldest and the largest towns in Egypt. Out of over 100,000 inhabitants, 25,000 are Christians. Delga had a number of churches [4-5], some going back to the 4th century. Almost all of them have been destroyed.
For the past 75 days, since Morsi was forced out of office, members of the Ikhwan and its affiliates have cordoned off the village. They forced some Christians to pay “Jizya,” the extra poll tax that Christians and other non-Muslims are required to pay (like a shakedown fee for “protection.”) Members of the Ikhwan make life intolerable for Christian community in the village.
On September 16, 2013, the Egyptian armed forces moved in to free Delga from the Ikhwan and its supporters. The armed forces waited that long because of what happened earlier in Kerdasa, another village south of Cairo and the home of many Christian families.
In Kerdasa, members of the Ikhwan, starting in a police station, took 11 policemen and soldiers hostage. They tortured and shot them dead on camera, and set the station and the village’s churches on fire. Christians fled the village of Kerdasa.
The government’s strategy was to wait to give the world chance to see what the Ikhwan is capable of.
Ehab Ramzy, a Coptic attorney in Egypt, provided the context. He stated in a televised interview that his office building was set on fire along with 50 churches and 1,000 Christian businesses. They were destroyed in Upper Egypt, Ramzy explained, on the day that Morsi was forced out. This was the Ikhwan strategy, he said: to punish the church for not supporting Morsi.
Since the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, the problem has only intensified: anti-Christian violence now manifests itself in Egypt with increasing regularity.
Since ouster of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, what happened to the Christians in Delga and Kerdasa, has been happening throughout Egypt.
The Christians of the village of Marinab in the Aswan Governorate, 700 miles south of Cairo, were also placed under siege by jihadists in October 2011. Their food supplies and contacts with the outside world were cut off until they agreed to have their church demolished because they violated the building code by displaying a cross, which the jihadists said was offensive.
The death of Iskander Toss and the ongoing attacks against Christians in Egypt demonstrates a troubling reality in the Middle East:
On September 19, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, adviser to many leaders in the Middle East, stated in televised interview that most countries in the region owned chemical weapons, the poor nation’s weapon of choice.
Heikal also stated that in the short run, President Obama’s incoherent foreign policies in the Middle East will threaten the stability of countries such as Lebanon, especially its Christian minority; and in the long run, the Persian Gulf countries. He added that what happened in Delga is not just an indicator of what the Ikhwan is capable of, but of what is coming.
The issue came to a head with the current U.S. administration’s response to the sarin gas attack that killed several hundred people on the outskirts of Damascus on Aug. 21, 2013.
By not attacking Assad, a puppet of Shiite Iran, the U.S. has not only strengthened America’s adversaries, Russia and China, but also emboldened the mullahs in Iran and Sunni extremists in Syria and Egypt, who now apparently think that the radicals’ war of attrition with the U.S. — which has been going on for decades — is finally bearing fruit.
While the British and American people have made it clear that they do not support a strike on the Assad regime in Syria, Christians in Syria and in the rest of the Middle East have also been unanimous in their opposition to such a strike: they fear it would unleash the forces of jihadists and cause the total destruction of Christianity in the region.
There is an irony here: by failing to act against the Bashar Al-Assad after stating it would, the U.S. policy has not only put religious and ethnic minorities in the region at even greater risk; it has also put moderate, reform-minded Muslims in even greater danger.
By speaking about the use of chemical weapons as a red line, and Assad’s days being numbered, the U.S. gave leaders in the Middle East an expectation that it would act in the face of atrocity.
By not acting, the U.S. has unintentionally given the signal that America is retreating from the region. The implication of this retreat is that violence against Christians and other non-Muslims can proceed with impunity.
U.S. President Barack Obama’s recent speech, given on the eve of the twelfth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, did nothing to disabuse global jihadists of this notion. As American credibility in the region has deteriorated, Islamist violence against Christians in the Middle East has escalated.
The problem is particularly evident in Syria, where Christians have been driven from their homes in Maaloula by Sunni jihadists associated with Al Qaeda. Earlier this year, the Christian quarter of Homs was completely destroyed and emptied of all of its inhabitants — more than 100,000 people were evicted from their homes. Churches dating back to the second, third and fourth centuries were destroyed.
If the violence against Christians in the Middle East continues without a meaningful response from the U.S. administration and leaders in the Middle East, it will indicate to jihadist cells currently residing in Europe and North America that their hour has finally arrived.
Although the Ikhwan has now been outlawed and driven from the halls of power in Egypt, as an international organization, it is still a force to be reckoned with: even if it is blocked in Egypt, its stated plan is to create problems for Western democracies.
If the American people and the current Administration turn their backs on the Middle East region, the destruction of both Christianity and freedom there is a virtual certainty.