February 26, 2005 | New York Daily News

Life of Fear for Christian Arabs

By: Richard Z. Chesnoff.

Last month's grisly murder in Jersey City of Hossam Armanious, his wife, Amal, and two daughters, Sylvia and Monica, remains unsolved. But friends and relatives of the family are convinced the bloody crime is rooted in a growing wave of violence and oppression against Christians taking place in Arab countries.

They may well be right.

The Armanious family was devoutly Coptic Christian – an ancient orthodox Egyptian sect that has long suffered from discrimination and coercion in largely Muslim Egypt. Armanious did something in America that he wouldn't dare try in his native Egypt: He attempted to convert Muslims to Christianity.

That, say members of the local Coptic community, angered Islamic extremists and led to the murder.

New Jersey police say they have no proof it was religious murder and are still considering robbery among the motives, although Armanious was far from rich and family jewelry was found untouched in the house.

Hudson County Prosecutor Edward De Fazio tells me he doesn't believe it was religious murder, although he also won't rule it out.

Local Coptic Christians, understandably, think otherwise. The Armanious family was found bound, gagged and stabbed multiple times – a murder style that follows a Koranic prescription for ritual execution, according to Michael Meunier, a representative of the the U.S. Copts Association.

“This was no robbery,” a frightened-looking New York City Coptic shopkeeper whispered to me recently. “Arabs did it.”

The fears of our area's Coptic community are even more understandable in light of what is happening to Christians across the Arab world.

“Christians, natives of Arab countries, are escaping their countries of origin,” says Iraqi columnist Majid Azaza. “The reason is the harassment to which they are subjected by government agencies on the one hand, and extremist groups on the other hand, in countries they have inhabited for thousands of years.”

Azaza says that Lebanese Christians – once a solid majority – continue to emigrate by the thousands as a result of the pressures placed upon them by Lebanon's growing Islamic fundamentalists. In Saudi Arabia, organized Christian religious worship is outlawed altogether – even for the oil-rich kingdom's foreign workers.

In Egypt, Copts say their community is subject to new discrimination in work, even violent attacks, and the forceful abduction and conversion of their daughters to Islam. In Palestinian areas, says Azaza, “Christians are becoming almost extinct.”

Thirty years ago, 70% of the population of the West Bank city of Bethlehem was Christian Arab. Today, the traditional birthplace of Jesus is more than 70% Muslim.

“People are afraid not only of the Arab versus Israeli violence, but of Muslim extremist pressure on us,” a Christian businessman told me on a recent visit. “They want our land, they want our businesses, they want our children.”

In light of this worldwide persecution, it's time to find out who slaughtered the Armanious family and why.



Egypt Lebanon