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07 February 2012

Egypt’s Christians, post-Mubarak

4-18-2011-11-47-28-PM-9777733.jpg“We don’t feel as safe as before,” said Georges Nader, an Egyptian Copt who lives in Cairo. A year after the revolution that led to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, Nader said that the number of Egyptians Copts fleeing the country was on the rise.

“Half of my family is in Canada or the US, and they are trying to get us out of the country too. We are just waiting for the right opportunity,” the 25-year-old told NOW Lebanon.

Last fall, the Egyptian Coptic Church’s lawyer Naguib Gibrael estimated that some 100,000 Christian families had left the country in the preceding months, and that since Mubarak’s ouster, sectarian strife has escalated in the country.

A little over a year ago, 21 Copts died in an attack on a church in Alexandria, while last spring, another 15 were killed in Imbaba when three Coptic Orthodox churches were burned.

It wasn’t until last October, however, that violence peaked, with a new group behind the hostilities: Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The military body, which assumed power in the wake of Mubarak’s fall, responded to a peaceful Coptic demonstration against churches being burned by setting the security services on protesters, resulting in 27 deaths. None of those responsible for the killings have been brought to justice.

Josette Abdullah, a Cairo-based clinical psychologist, said that even though she as a Copt has never experienced threats or discrimination in Egypt, Christians’ current fears are understandable.

“Even with my name, which is clearly not Muslim, I have never encountered any problems, and from my personal experience, in addition to historically speaking, Egypt has shown relatively few signs of sectarian violence,” she said. “But lately, it seems to be about wreaking havoc, and whoever is behind the instigation is willing to create tension between religions or other groups in society.”

Though on paper, Egyptian Christians and Muslims are equal by law, many admit that Copts, who make up approximately 10 percent of the country’s population, are often discriminated against. Between 2008 and 2010, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) recorded 52 cases of Coptic-Muslim conflict. Many fear that with the new Islamist majority in parliament, things will only get worse.

“At first, Islamic figures will come across as protectors of their Christian brothers, but that is solely about reeling in support,” said Georges al-Sanady, a 25-year-old engineer from Cairo. Sanady says that after paying lip service to equality, the Islamists in power will try to enforce Sharia law.

“It will not happen overnight, but Christians are not buying this, regardless of their social class,” he said.

Coptic Priest Philopateer Gameel echoed Sanady’s fears.

“Post-revolution, the situation has in fact deteriorated,” he said, pointing to the elections, which he insists were rigged. According to Gameel, religious rhetoric was used as propaganda during Friday prayers in mosques, as well as in some churches, “which proves the extent to which authorities manipulate and attract voters through religion,” he said.

But at the very least, one positive outcome of the revolution is greater freedom of expression.

“We are voicing concerns now, and have more freedom do so,” said Ra’fat Basta, a political and human rights activist, and a representative of the Shabab Maspero group.

“Both Christians and non-Christians, Islamists, are making themselves heard,” said Gameel.

He added that ultimately, it was not fair to only deem Christians the victims of pre-and post-revolution corruption and state-sanctioned violence, which are problems facing the country as a whole.

“Many moderate Muslims, especially those with significant investments in the country, such as in the tourism industry and free trade, are also fearing harassment in their personal life and work,” he said.

“This is where moderate Muslims and Christians are on par. They all share these same concerns.”

Nadine Elali contributed reporting to this article.

To read more: http://www.nowlebanon.com/NewsArticleDetails.aspx?ID=3591...

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