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

Turkish Public Fears Jihadists More Than Kurds

Turkey facing twin threats of terrorism by Islamic State and PKK Kurdish separatists, says President Erdogan’s ruling AK Party More

Video One Year After Massacre, Iraq’s Yazidis a Broken People

Minority community still recovering from devastating assault by IS militants which spurred massive outrage More

‘Malvertisements’ Undermine Internet Trust

Hackers increasingly prey on users' trust of major websites to delivery malicious software 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.
Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Communityi
X
Sharon Behn
August 03, 2015 2:23 PM
A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Iraqi Yazidis Fear Death of Their Community

A year ago on August 3, Islamic State militants stormed the homelands of Iraq’s Yazidi minority, killing hundreds of men and enslaving thousands of women. The scenes of desperate Yazidi families crowding on the top of Sinjar mountain without food or water spurred Kurdish fighters into action, an emergency airlift and the start of the U.S. airstrike campaign against the Islamic State Sunni extremists. VOA's Sharon Benh reports from northern Iraq.
Video

Video Bangkok Warned It Soon Could Be Submerged

Italy's Venice and America's New Orleans are not the only cities gradually submerging. The nearly ten million residents of the Bangkok urban area now must confront warnings the city could become uninhabitable in a few decades. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Thai capital.
Video

Video Inclusive Gym Gets People With Disabilities in Fitness Spirit

Individuals with special needs are 58 percent more likely to be obese than the general population. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, they also have an increased likelihood of anxiety, depression and social isolation. But a sports club outside Washington wants to make a difference in these people's lives. With Carol Pearson narrating, VOA's June Soh reports.
Video

Video Astronauts Train Underwater for Deep Space Missions

Manned deep space missions are still a long way off, but space agencies are already testing procedures, equipment and human stamina for operations in extreme environment conditions. Small groups of astronauts take turns in spending days in an underwater lab, off Florida’s southern coast, simulating future missions to some remote world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Special Olympics Show Competitors' Skill, Determination

Special Olympics competitions will wrap up Saturday in Los Angeles, and the closing ceremony for athletes with intellectual disabilities will be held Sunday night. In a week of competition, athletes have shown what they can do through skill and determination. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports.
Video

Video Civil Rights Leaders Struggled to Achieve Voting Rights Act

Fifty years ago, lawmakers approved, and U.S. President Lyndon Johnson signed, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The measure outlawed racial discrimination in voting, giving millions of blacks in many parts of the southern United States federal enforcement of the right to vote. Correspondent Chris Simkins introduces us to some civil rights leaders who were on the front lines in the struggle for voting rights.
Video

Video Shooter’s Grill: Serving Food with a Touch of the Second Amendment

Shooter's Grill, a restaurant in Rifle, Colorado, attracts visitors from all over the world as well as local patrons. The reason? Waitresses openly carry loaded firearms as they serve food, and customers are welcome to carry them, too. VOA's Enming Liu and Lin Yang paid a visit to Shooter's Grill, and heard different opinions about this unique establishment.
Video

Video Despite Controversy, Business Owner Continues Sale of Confederate Flags

At Cooter’s, a store in rural Sperryville, Virginia, about 120 kilometers west of Washington, D.C., Confederate flags are flying off the shelves. The red, white and blue battle flag, with 13 white stars representing the Confederate states, was carried by southern forces during the U.S. Civil War in the 1860s. The South had seceded from the Union over several key issues of disagreement, including slavery. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.
Video

Video Booming London Property a ‘Haven for Dirty Money’

Billions of dollars of so-called ‘dirty money’ from the proceeds of crime - especially from Russia - are being laundered through the London property market, according to anti-corruption activists. As Henry Ridgwell reports from the British capital, the government has pledged to crack down on the practice.
Video

Video Hometown of Boy Scouts of America Founder Reacts to Gay Leader Decision

Ottawa, Illinois, is the hometown of W.D. Boyce, who founded the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In Ottawa, where Scouting remains an important part of the legacy of the community, the end of the organization's ban on openly gay adult leaders was seen as inevitable. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

VOA Blogs