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Keeping the lid on

Egyptian Christians are watchful about life post-Mubarak

February 11, 2011

Protesters rally near the White House on the fourth day of the Republican National Convention on Thursday in Washington.AP Photo/Andrew Harnik


Inside a courtyard at All Saints Church in Alexandria, Egypt, Coptic Christians can't escape a reminder of the violent bombing that rocked a New Year's Eve service and killed nearly two dozen churchgoers: An ambulance parked beneath a poster-depiction of Jesus stands ready for any new calamity.

With a widespread revolution upending Egypt, many Christians say they fear the prospect of political upheaval. Many especially fear the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, a well-organized Islamic opposition group with long-standing ties to terrorism.

Even as tens of thousands of Egyptian protesters intensified demands for President Hosni Mubarak immediately to leave office, some Christians are ambivalent about Mubarak's three-decade rule. "He's the best of the worst," Sameh Joseph, a worker at a Coptic church in Alexandria, told the Los Angeles Times. "Whoever comes after him might want to destroy us."

Across town, Emad Mikhail disagrees. In an email interview nine days after the Egyptian protests erupted, the president of the evangelical Alexandria School of Theology said the New Year's Eve bombing had forged reconciliation among many Muslims and Christians in the city. He believes protesters' insistence that the political upheaval is secular, not Islamic: "It will pave the way for more, not less, religious freedom."

If Christians disagree on Egypt's prospects, one thing is certain for the minority group that comprises 10 percent of the country's population: Oppression is a steady reality, and crimes against Christians often go unpunished (see "'Tis the Season," Jan. 29)-and that impunity encourages more crimes against Christians.

Even as protests raged in Egypt and the government crippled internet service, Islamists attacked two Christian families south of Cairo on Jan. 30, killing 11, injuring four, and looting the victims' homes, according to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA). The dead included four children, ages 3 to 15.

A local bishop said the murders didn't reflect animosity between local Muslims and Christians but a breakdown in police protection during the chaos. Coptic activist Hanna Hanna told AINA the Muslim attackers "know that with Copts they can literally get away with murder."

Habib Ibrahim fears that dynamic could grow worse if the Muslim Brotherhood gains political power in Egypt. The chairman of United Copts of Great Britain said many Christians initially participated in the protests-believing they were secular-and that some remain active in the demonstrations. But Ibrahim says the Muslim Brotherhood's increasing participation in the political negotiations is ominous: "We worry about them taking over because if they take over it will be another Hamas-like government . . . persecuting Christians more openly."

Tom Doyle of e3 Partners Ministry, a Texas-based Christian organization that works with Egyptian churches, says his group's Christian contacts in Egypt have long faced harassment and trouble: Police arrested nine of the group's workers last year. Egyptian Christians have told him that "life with Mubarak wasn't great, but at least he did keep a lid on the violence by radicals."

Despite the growing fears, Christian groups say Egyptian Christians are also expressing a deep-rooted faith in God's providence, and even enthusiasm over the prayers of Christians around the world. Doyle says one Egyptian worker told him: "Probably right now we have more people praying for Egypt than ever before in our history. . . . And we know that God is going to answer those prayers."

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