Rachel Lipkin, who now resides in Israel, fled Egypt with her family in 1969. That year her father was released from prison, after being forced to sign away all the family assets to the Egyptian government. During his three-year imprisonment (thousands of Egyptian Jewish men were locked up after the 1967 “Six Day War”), Rachel remembers the kindness of their Coptic neighbors, who regularly brought eggs, milk and bread to her mother.
“I was just 11-years-old at the time, but I clearly remember what our neighbor said. ‘They are coming after you Jews,’ she told my mother. ‘and once they have driven you out of the country, then they will come after us Christians. We know this.’”
As I wrote in my book Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojouner, in 1948, the number of Jews living in Egypt was estimated between 85,000 and 100,000. Today fewer than 50 Jews remain there, and most are elderly and infirm.
Another Jewish refugee from Egypt, Joseph Wahed, wrote of an eerily similar experience in a letter to the Wall Street Journal in 2011, following a WSJ story titled “Clashes between Christians, Police Rock Cairo.”
This reminded me of what our Coptic neighbor told my family as we were being expelled from Egypt in November 1952: ‘After Saturday comes Sunday.’ He accurately predicted that the Coptic community also would feel the wrath and hatred of Egyptians, much of it inspired by radical Islam.
As anyone following this week’s international news can attest, “First the Saturday People, then the Sunday People” is no longer just an Islamist slogan. At its worst it states, “On Saturday we kill the Jews; on Sunday we kill the Christians.” Today, as we watch the non-stop violence in Egypt, that slogan has become an observable reality.
This morning I found a message in my inbox from Egypt’s Maspero Youth Union, an organization of young, outspoken Coptic Christians, reporting the latest attacks on churches and Copts by the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi – between August 14-16. Here are the statistics:
38 Churches completely destroyed, burned and looted
23 Churches attacked and partially damaged
In Addition to the following:
58 houses owned by Copts in different areas burned and looted
85 shops owned by Copts
3 hotels (Horus, Susana & Akhnaton)
75 cars, buses owned by churches
6 people killed based on their religious Christian Identity
7 Coptic people kidnapped in upper Egypt governorates
The report went on to say,
Maspero Youth Union declares that the Muslim Brotherhood are no longer a political faction that can be dealt with, but it is a terrorist and criminal group aiming to destroy the Egyptian state. They violate the right for life and freedom of the Egyptian people, and are trying to divide the country and threaten its national security.
The attacks from the Muslim brotherhood members and supporters of ousted president Mohamed Morsi continue on the Egyptians generally and especially on churches, houses, businesses owned by Coptic Christians all over Egypt
Maspero Youth Union continue to monitor, record and document the attacks against our churches, based on eye witnesses, videos, and photos from the places of the attacks.
I live in Israel. And when I talk to my neighbors and friends about this terrible upheaval, they recall the stories all too well about the flood of refugees that were driven out of Muslim lands between 1948 and 1970. There were at least 850,000 women, men and children, and many fled to the young Jewish state, which could barely house them. In fact many lived in tents for more than a year.
Today, history is repeating itself. The Jews, the “Saturday People,” who ran for their lives not so long ago, have found new homes, new lives and a new homeland in Israel or in other Western countries.
Now the “Sunday People” are facing the same abuses, the same pogroms, the same disappearances of loved ones, the threats, rapes, burned churches and deaths, as the Jews that went before them. The Christians that can leave are doing so by the thousands. But many Egyptian Christians simply do not have the financial resources or the international connections to flee.
Where will the “Sunday People” go? There is no Christian homeland to take them in, no “Israel” to offer them right of return. There are between 8 and 10 million Christians in Egypt – perhaps more – not to mention the Syrian and other Middle Eastern Christians who are also living in a constant nightmare. Those with the means are quietly leaving their homes in record numbers. Others either cannot or will not flee.
Will anyone defend them? Will anyone support them? Who will help them when and if they have to abandon their homes and homeland? Who will take them in?
Lela Gilbert is the author of Saturday People, Sunday People: Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner, and co-author of Persecuted: the Global Assault on Christians. She is an adjunct fellow at Hudson Institute.