On Sunday, August 23, a Coptic Christian soldier was killed in his army unit in Egypt. Baha Saeed Karam, 22, was found shot dead with four bullet wounds at the headquarters of his battalion in Marsa Matruh. Although transferred to a hospital in Alexandria, he was pronounced dead upon arrival.
According to Baha’s brother, Cyril, the Coptic soldier had recently told him that he had gotten into arguments with other Muslim soldiers in his unit and that one had threatened him with death.
Baha is certainly not the first Coptic Christian serving in his country’s military to be killed over his religious identity.
Two months earlier, on June 24, the only Christian in his army unit was found shot dead in a chair at the office of the military base he was stationed. Baha Gamal Mikhail Silvanus, a 23-year-old conscript, had two gunshot wounds and a gun at his feet. Relatives who later saw the body said he also had wounds atop his head, as if he had been bludgeoned with an object.
The military’s official position was that the Copt committed suicide—despite the fact that suicides are rarely able to shoot themselves twice or first hit themselves atop the head with blunt objects. Moreover, according to Rev. Mikhial Shenouda, who knew the deceased, “A person who commits suicide is a disappointed and desperate person, but Baha was in very good spirits. He was smiling always. He was keeping the word of God,” and planning on entering the monastic life after his military service.
A friend of the deceased Christian said that Silvanus had confided to him that he was regularly pressured by other soldiers in his unit to convert to Islam: “He told me that the persecution of the fanatical Muslim conscripts in the battalion against him had increased … and that they would kill him if he wouldn’t convert to Islam.”
On August 31, 2013, another Copt in the armed services, Abu al-Khair Atta, was killed in his unit by an “extremist officer” for “refusing to convert to Islam.” Again, the interior ministry informed the slain Copt’s family that he had committed suicide.
However, Abu al-Khair’s father, citing eyewitnesses who spoke to him, said that “one of the radical, fanatical officers pressured and threatened him on more than one occasion to convert to Islam. Abu al-Khair resisted the threats, which vexed the officer more.”