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

TEXT SIZE - +

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

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated 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.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid