BRIGHTER FUTURE FOR EGYPTIAN CHRISTIANS?
by Amy Joy Hess
In Cairo, three people were sentenced to life in prison and two more face seven years’ incarceration for their part in terrorizing their fellow Egyptians and killing four Copts in 2010. It is a rare bit of justice for Egyptian Christians, who have been tormented regularly by Muslim radicals in Egypt. The defendants were accused of “forming an illegal group and using terrorist methods to target the police, foreign tourists and the Copts.” While a Cairo court convicted these five, as well as an additional absent individual, another nineteen defendants were acquitted in the case.
Christians in Egypt have long felt the power of discrimination in their country, and during the presidency of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi, anger against Christians was allowed to foment in the mosques. A little more than a month after he was removed from office, Morsi supporters went on a rampage against Christians, burning at least 45 churches on August 14, 2013 alone.
The attacks continue. Christian businessmen, Wadei Ramses and Gamal Shenouda, a surgeon and a merchant respectively, were recently kidnapped in separate incidents in the Sinai. In early June, a mob of Muslims set fire to shops owned by Coptic Christians ahead of the
trial of Kerolos Ghattas, a young Copt charged with blasphemy against Islam. Ten percent of Egypt’s 86.5 million people are Coptic Christians, and this significant population live under constant threat from the radical Muslims around them.
The recent election of retired military leader Abdel Fattah al-Sisi has given some Christians hope for a break from the lawlessness that has kept Copts in constant danger since the 2011 Revolution. Weary of the chaos and damaged economy and longing for greater stability in the torn country, a full 96.9% of Egyptians voted for Sisi as President.
Young revolutionaries see the new presidency as just another form of oppression, though, one backed by the military. Former Muslim Brotherhood member Mohamed Abbas thinks there are opportunities available under Sisi, but he doesn’t expect freedom to flourish under the military.
“Others have shown their naivety and ignorance by thinking that a military regime will apply democracy, a hope proven to be false decades ago,” he said.
Amr Ali, the official spokesman of the outlawed April 6 Youth Movement, told Al-Monitor, “Yes, the people want democracy and freedom, but only after the stability Sisi and the military-backed regime is promising to provide.”
Either way, there is increased freedom in Egypt since the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s government during the Arab Spring. Bassem Kamel of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party told Al-Monitor, “We have political parties, we speak to the public through the media and we have popular support…” These were liberties hardly enjoyed under Mubarak’s government.
Stability will come with a price. Social media and protests will be systematically stifled to prevent the volatility that comes from youthful revolutionary passion. Still, fewer freedoms for the general population may equate to greater safety for the nation’s Copts. Sisi is credited with having former President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood removed from power last July. Muslim violence and attacks on Christians erupted in the wake of Morsi’s fall, but while Sisi’s military isn’t beloved, it is considered capable of restoring order.
“I support [Sisi] because he has promised us that he will do his best to serve the Egyptian citizen and eliminate the illiteracy and he will combat the terrorism in Egypt and defend the Christians [and] the church. He also has promised the youth that he will create new jobs for them,” said Nariman Gaber, a Christian woman in Cairo.
Egypt remains in a state of flux, but a return to law and order will give the people a chance to gain some normalcy in their lives. At the least, the election of Sisi shows that Egyptians are momentarily weary of fighting and violence, and that bodes a little better — just a little — for the religious minorities in the country.
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