News / Middle East

Egypt's Christians and Muslims Face Unity and Tensions

Egyptian Coptic priests pray during Christmas mass at Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo (file photo)
Egyptian Coptic priests pray during Christmas mass at Saint Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo (file photo)

Multimedia

As Egyptians shape their political destiny, there are questions about whether the Christian-Muslim unity seen during the popular uprising will hold.  

On this Sunday morning, Christians attend mass in Egypt's Coptic Cairo neighborhood, where they have worshipped since pre-Islamic times.  Egypt's Coptic community is the largest Christian population in the Arab world, as Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 82 million people.  

St. Mark the apostle introduced Christianity to Egypt 2,000 years ago.  And, in this modern time of political uncertainty, Egypt's Christians say they trust in their ancient faith.

Fouad Botros Mikhael is a Coptic Christian.

"I feel God protects us," he said. "We are here now in problems, but we trust in God.  He will be with us and help us."

Christians and Muslims banded together in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the popular uprising that unseated President Hosni Mubarak.  

At times, they held Qurans and crosses aloft, and some carried banners and chanted, "Muslim, Christian, we are all Egyptian."

An advisor at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Nabil Abdel Fattah, reflects on the unity he saw in the protests.

"I think this is a new spirit," he said. "It is very important.  It is very, very, very important."

A new spirit might be needed, given long-standing complaints of discrimination against Christians.  Earlier this month, Muslims burned down a church in a Cairo suburb, prompting more than 1,000 Christians to protest in the capital.  Sectarian clashes ensued, and seven Copts were killed.  On New Year's Eve, a suicide bomber killed more than 20 people at a church in Alexandria.

Under Mubarak, Christians were often excluded from positions of authority and influence.  They held fewer than two percent of seats in the recently disbanded parliament.  They continue to face restrictions when they want to build or fix churches, and Islamic law remains Egypt's main source of legislation.

American University in Cairo Political Science Professor Samer Soliman foresees greater opportunities ahead for Christians.

"During Mubarak's time, it was very difficult," he said. "I mean here, discrimination coming from the state and from the conservative side of the Muslims.  So I do not expect that it will be more difficult."

A Coptic priest says political reform is important, but not enough.  


He says people continue to be governed by their culture and tend to deal with each other as Muslims or Christians.  That, he says, is not good.    

Christians and Muslims alike in Coptic Cairo on this Sunday morning dismissed talk of religious tensions.  Yasser Maghdi is a tour guide:

"I am Muslim, and I have many friends [who are] Coptic," he said. "You are Christian and they are Muslim.  So, we have to respect each other."    

Fattah, of the Al-Ahram Center, says there is room for greater political inclusivity in the post-Mubarak age.  

"It means new political parties, he said. "It means a new social and political movement.  It means movement for citizenship together - Christians and Muslims."

At this point, the Muslim Brotherhood is the largest and most organized political opposition group in Egypt.  It was suppressed under the former government, but it fielded candidates as independents.  

Former leaders of the Brotherhood are among the heroes of militant Islam, but the current Egyptian party renounced violence as a political tool in the 1970s.  Analysts say the Muslim Brotherhood is poised to gain strength.  

Fattah says concerns the Muslim Brotherhood might dominate politics are overstated.

American University's Soliman notes that there is no such thing as a Coptic or Christian political bloc.  He says he thinks Christians likely will align themselves with liberal political groups.

"We are hoping that in the future, after the end of the marginalization, after the end of the Mubarak regime, that democracy can open the space for many political movements to work," he said.

Egyptians who spoke to VOA, Christian and Muslim alike, said their goal in this post-Mubarak age is to advance a democratic society, not their religion.

You May Like

Obama: Alaskans Feel Signs of Climate Change

They're seeing bigger storm surges as sea ice melts, more wildfires, erosion of glaciers, shorelines More

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

Magical Photo Slides Show Native Americans in Late 1800s

Walter McClintock spent 20 years photographing the Blackfoot Indians and their vanishing culture at the dawn of the modern age More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs