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Persecuted in Egypt, refugees move to Brooklyn

Egypt’s Coptic Christians seek solace in Dyker Heights

The Brooklyn Paper

The congregation at Father Mina Yanni’s Dyker Heights church swelled in the two years since Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak was forced from office, as Coptic Christians fleeing persecution have made their way to the place where so many refugees before them sought freedom — Brooklyn.

So on Sunday, there was a standing-room-only crowd at the Coptic Orthodox Church of Saint George at 67th Street and 11th Avenue listening to the pastor’s message of hope. God, he said, had blessed the Egyptian people, but it is sometimes necessary to relocate when faced with danger. That doesn’t mean you can’t go home again, and you must always keep the faith.

“Sometimes in our life, there is trouble, bad things happen,” said Yanni. “But we must be sure that the Lord will always be with us.”

Four-hundred refugees have joined the borough’s only Coptic church since the overthrow of Mubarak, which sent shockwaves through the Middle East. When the strongman fell from power, the Coptics lost the small measure of stability his regime provided — and anti-Christian violence and the threat of harsh Islamist rule pushed the sect to Dyker Heights, according to Yanni.

“People are afraid, and they want to come to a safer place,” said Yanni. “And the best safer place in the world is the United States of America.”

His congregants claim to be living proof.

Dr. Abd El-Mesih (the name he gave us, which translates to “servant of the messiah”) said Muslim extremists in his homeland attempted to take him hostage, which forced the orthopedist to close his clinic for three and a half months. When he finally thought it was safe to re-open, he quickly realized he was wrong.

Days after going back to work, his office was raided by men who stole valuable instruments and beat the doctor with their fists and sticks. El-Mesih claimed that he suffered multiple contusions, a concussion, a dislocated shoulder, and a fractured spine. That was enough for him. He closed his shop in March and fled to a land he became familiar with when he attended an orthopedists conference in Brooklyn last year.

El-Mesih said that the extremists are intimidating and extorting well-to-do Coptics, holding many of them for ransom.

Albert Assad, the son of a wealthy Coptic jeweler, came to Brooklyn with his wife and three young daughters two months ago after radicals repeatedly threatened to kidnap one the girls. Assad said three Christians near his township had been killed in the past year, and that radicals had snatched the son of one of his friends and held the 15-year-old boy, demanding $200,000 for his safe return.

Assad believes the failure to stop the chaos is a sign that the new leadership, headed by President Mohamed Morsi, is soft on terrorism.

“They see the threat, and they don’t do anything about it, so they are okay with it,” said Assad.

Former teacher Sally Amany said she and her husband — also a jeweler — brought their three daughters to Brooklyn in July 2012 after a friend was shot and robbed in his shop, causing the family to fear they would be targeted, too.

“My husband meets some bad people in his work,” said Amany. “And they aren’t going to kill a rich Muslim jewelry dealer.”

Still, the refugees said they believe that democracy will eventually bring peace to the nation, since they believe the majority of their countrymen don’t want an extremist government.

“The Egyptian people are smart,” said Assad. “We will return to Egypt once the situation improves.”

Until then, they have Brooklyn to keep them safe.

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at wbredderman@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4507. Follow him at twitter.com/WillBredderman.

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Reader Feedback

manhatposeur from brokeland says:
Brooklyn welcomes all! All to lvie in peace!
Jan. 17, 2013, 9:10 am
Mickey Shea from Greenpoint says:
I don't share their optimism. I think Egypt is destined to become an absolute Islamic hellhole.
Jan. 17, 2013, 10:13 am
Mickey Shea from Greenpoint says:
Heh heh, always a pleasure to meet an erudite, educated person such as yourself, Mr. (or Ms.) Al-yaya.
Jan. 17, 2013, 12:16 pm
John from Bay Ridge says:
"Copt" is the original word for Egyptian. The Coptic Christians in Egypt have long suffered oppression at the hands of the Muslims. We welcome them here, but the prospects for Christians in Egypt and the Middle East are very poor. We should concentrate immigration from the Middle East to focus on oppressed minorities, like the Coptic Chrisrians, the Bahais, the Alymadias, etc. None of those groups have a future under Islam.
Jan. 17, 2013, 3:52 pm
Jack Rescoe from East Flatbush says:
This is good for Brooklyn. Egyptian Copts are fine people. I would bring all who want to come out of that hellhole to Brooklyn where they will find peace.
Jan. 17, 2013, 5:40 pm
Hipster Hater from Haterville says:
Its better than hipsters moving in!
Jan. 17, 2013, 6:14 pm
Brad from Park Slope says:
The oppression of Christians by Muslims in Muslim majority countries is brutal, and gets absolutely no media notice in the US. What a travesty. We should give the Copts priority in immigration to the US, and leave the Islamists there.
Jan. 17, 2013, 10:11 pm
T. Geisel from Whoville says:
Now, the Star-Belly Sneetches had bellies with stars. The Plain-Belly Sneetches had none upon thars.
Jan. 18, 2013, 12:24 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
As a native of Israel, which is right now the only true democracy in the Mid East, I welcome the Coptic Christians here. However, the persecution on them over in Egypt actually predates the Arab Spring, so what happened recently isn't something new. It's nice to see them go to a place where they will be respected as human beings rather than as animals. I find it an irony when many say how Israel oppresses minorities when it comes from the rest of the region who has shown even more evidence of doing such. This is why a non-Jew living in Israel has more freedom compared to a non-Muslim living anywhere else in the region. So much for the religion of peace known as Islam.
Jan. 18, 2013, 3:31 pm
Betty from Old Brooklyn says:
Oh no - the coptics are hipsters!!
They wear scarves, are into strange food, they're loud and not local!
Hipsters!
Jan. 20, 2013, 9:43 am
Peter from Bay Ridge says:
Coptic Christians are second class citizens in Eygpt and have been since the violent invasion of Islam that predates the crusades.
Jan. 23, 2013, 1:20 pm
j from usa says:
it looks like hamas iran and the arab brothern are going to do to the cotic christain and any religion what hiltler did to the jews we have to get them out of their emai; mr obama
March 4, 2013, 11:28 pm

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