WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Christian religion in the Muslim-majority North African country of Libya has disappeared, declared an expert from United Kingdom-based University of Sussex.
“We have lost the Christian presence in Libya,” said Professor Mariz Tadros during a Christian persecution conference on Thursday at the National Press Club.
“Religious pluralism as it existed [in Libya] is over,” she added.
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Before the 2011 revolution that resulted in the overthrow and execution of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, as many as 100,000 Christians, mainly members of the Coptic Church, resided in Libya, reported Agence France-Presse (AFP).
As of 2013, before the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) appeared in the North African nation, “a few thousand” Christians remained, added AFP, citing church officials.
At one point, Libya’s coastal city of Sirte, where Gaddafi was killed, was ISIS’s largest stronghold outside of its so-called caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
ISIS jihadists targeted members of the Christian minority in Libya as it did in other countries.
In February 2015, the terrorist group decapitated 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians on a Libyan beach, prompting worldwide condemnation.
“These beheadings accounted for a mere twenty-one of the 7,100 Christians whom Open Doors estimates died for their faith in 2015,” points out a report released by the University of Notre Dame’s Under Caesar’s Sword project on global Christian communities during the conference Thursday.
The report, titled “In Response to Persecution,” assessed Libya to host a “high” level of Christian persecution.
“Christians face violence at the hands of Muslim militants. Especially in Egypt and Libya, this violence has increased as a result of the ‘Arab Uprisings’ of 2011,” it notes adding:
While Christians generally enjoyed freedom from heavy discrimination and a decent level of liberty to worship and practice under the regime of Muammar Gaddafi, Christians’ security disappeared when this dictator fell and Libya was beset with lawlessness. Militias and tribal groups were empowered, including Muslim groups like Ansar al Shariah, al-Nusra, the Islamic State, and the Muslim Brotherhood. At their hands, Christians suffered assaults on churches, violence against clergy, abductions, and numerous other forms of violence.
Libya has been gripped by chaos since the fall of Gaddafi, providing fertile grounds for jihadists to flourish.
While the persecution report mentions that Christians still make up “between 3 percent and 5 percent of the population and are mostly migrant workers from outside the country,” the Open Doors USA organization estimates that less than one percent (20,000) of the Muslim-majority country’s 6.4 million people are Christians.
“As anarchy took hold in Libya, many Copts and other Christians at first tried to avoid abductions while remain-ing in the country, often living like fugitives,” notes the report released Thursday. “Eventually, a mass exodus ensued, with more than 200,000 Christians leaving Libya between 2011 and 2015, it is estimated.”