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December 24, 2012

Egyptians Face Christmas Amid Fears

by Al Pessin

Egyptian Christians will mark Christmas amid concerns that their situation in the country is becoming precarious as Islamists become more prominent.  VOA's Al Pessin visited a Christian family in Cairo as it prepared for the holiday.

Seleem Wassaf and his family are are performing their annual tradition, decorating their Christmas tree. But he says, for Egyptian Christians, the joy of the season is tempered by concern.

“At present they feel that there is something which is a fear, something may happen which they don't like to happen,” Wassaf said.

Seleem's wife Hela, a bank manager, put on a Christmas sweater and pin for the occasion, but her heart is not in it quite as it used to be.

Mrs. Wassaf says Egyptian Christians are praying more and celebrating less this year. She is worried and fears for her future as a working Christian woman in Egypt.

“No joy. Here joy, but not joy,” she said.

It's a feeling shared among many of Egypt's eight million Christians, 10 percent of the population. The Wassaf family is part of a minority within the minority. They are among the 1,000 Egyptian members of the Anglican Church.

Most Egyptian Christians are Coptic Orthodox, and they are the largest Christian community in the Arab World. The selection of a new Coptic pope in November drew worldwide attention.

Egypt's new constitution guarantees the rights of the country's Christians, but many are worried anyway according to Youssef Sidhom, the editor of the Coptic weekly newspaper.

“Well, it's obvious that Egypt is continuously being dragged towards political Islam. And political Islam in the political arena in Egypt does not hide its intentions to work towards establishing an Islamic State,” Sidhom said.

Egypt's Islamists have demonstrated their power on the streets and at the ballot box.

And their rise worries Seleem Wassaf's daughter Sara, a university senior.

“It's really hard. I'm afraid when I hear they want to limit the roles and the work of women. Sometimes I think that if it was applied, I may not work again, or I may not go to college and continue my education. It causes really, really fear.  I can not stop myself of thinking and being a normal human being,” Wassaf said.

Sara has been heartened a bit by some of her classmates, who are coming to her Christmas concert this year for the first time. It's the kind of sign she's been praying for.

“We keep praying for this relationship and for these relations between us and Muslims and that there will be peace,” Wassaf said.

And that, even amid Egypt's turmoil, is after all the theme of the day.