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

    Video How Aleppo Rebels Plan to Withstand Assad's Siege

    Rebels in Aleppo are laying plans to withstand a siege by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces in likelihood the regime cuts a final main supply line running west of city

    Scientists Detect Gravitational Waves in Landmark Discovery

    Researchers likened discovery to difference between looking at piece of music on paper and then hearing it in real life

    Prince Ali: FIFA Politics Affected International Fixtures

    Some countries faced unfavorable treatment for not toeing political line inside soccer world body, Jordanian candidate to head FIFA says

    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.
    Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growthi
    X
    February 10, 2016 5:54 AM
    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Russia's Car Sales Shrink Overall, But Luxury and Economy Models See Growth

    Car sales in Russia dropped by more than a third in 2015 because of the country's economic woes. But, at the extreme ends of the car market, luxury vehicles and some economy brands are actually experiencing growth. VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow.
    Video

    Video Civil Rights Pioneer Remembers Struggle for Voting Rights

    February is Black History Month in the United States. The annual, month-long national observance pays tribute to important people and events that shaped the history of African Americans. VOA's Chris Simkins reports how one man fought against discrimination to help millions of blacks obtain the right to vote
    Video

    Video Jordanian Theater Group Stages Anti-Terrorism Message

    The lure of the self-styled “Islamic State” has many parents worried about their children who may be susceptible to the organization’s online propaganda. Dozens of Muslim communities in the Middle East are fighting back -- giving young adults alternatives to violence. One group in Jordan is using dramatic expression a send a family message. Mideast Broadcasting Network correspondent Haider Al Abdali shared this report with VOA. It’s narrated by Bronwyn Benito
    Video

    Video Migrant Crisis Fuels Debate Over Britain’s Future in EU

    The migrant crisis in Europe is fueling the debate in Britain ahead of a referendum on staying in the European Union that may be held this year. Prime Minister David Cameron warns that leaving the EU could lead to thousands more migrants arriving in the country. Meanwhile, tension is rising in Calais, France, where thousands of migrants are living in squalid camps. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Valentine's Day Stinks for Lebanese Clowns

    This weekend, on Valentine's Day in Lebanon, love is not the only thing in the air. More than half a year after the country's trash crisis began, the stink of uncollected garbage remains on the streets. Step forward "Clown Me In," a group of clowns who use their skills for activism. Before the most romantic day of the year the clowns have released their unusual take on love in Lebanon -- in a bid to keep the pressure up and get the trash off the streets. John Owens reports from Beirut.
    Video

    Video Families Flee Aleppo for Kurdish Regions in Syria

    Not all who flee the fighting in Aleppo are trying to cross the border into Turkey. A VOA reporter caught up with several families heading for Kurdish-held areas of northern Syria.
    Video

    Video Rocky Year Ahead for Nigeria Amid Oil Price Crash

    The global fall in the price of oil has rattled the economies of many petroleum exporters, and Africa’s oil king Nigeria is no exception. As Chris Stein reports from Lagos, analysts are predicting a rough year ahead for the continent’s top producer of crude.
    Video

    Video 'No Means No' Program Targets Sexual Violence in Kenya

    The organizers of an initiative to reduce and stop rape in the informal settlements around Kenya's capital say their program is having marked success. Girls are taking self-defense classes while the boys are learning how to protect the girls and respect them. Lenny Ruvaga reports from Nairobi.
    Video

    Video Chocolate Lovers Get a Sweet History Lesson

    Observed in many countries around the world, Valentine’s Day is sometimes celebrated with chocolate festivals. But at a festival near Washington, the visitors experience a bit more than a sugar rush. They go on a sweet journey through history. VOA’s June Soh takes us to the festival.
    Video

    Video 'Smart' Bandages Could Heal Wounds More Quickly

    Simple bandages are usually seen as the first line of attack in healing small to moderate wounds and burns. But scientists say new synthetic materials with embedded microsensors could turn bandages into a much more valuable tool for emergency physicians. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Researchers Use 3-D Printer to Produce Transplantable Body Parts

    Human organ transplants have become fairly common around the world in the past few decades. Researchers at various universities are coordinating their efforts to find solutions -- including teams at the University of Pennsylvania and Rice University in Houston that are experimenting with a 3-D printer -- to make blood vessels and other structures for implant. As VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Houston, they are also using these artificial body parts to seek ways of defeating cancerous tumors.
    Video

    Video Helping the Blind 'See' Great Art

    There are 285 million blind and visually impaired people in the world who are unable to enjoy visual art at a museum. One New York photographer is trying to fix this situation by making tangible copies of the world’s masterpieces. VOA correspondent Victoria Kupchinetsky was there as visually impaired people got a feel for great art. Joy Wagner narrates her report.
    Video

    Video German Artists to Memorialize Refugees With Life Jacket Exhibit

    Sold in every kind of shop in some Turkish port towns, life jackets have become a symbol of the refugee crisis that brought a million people to Europe in 2015.  On the shores of Lesbos, Greece, German artists collect discarded life jackets as they prepare an art installation they plan to display in Germany.  For VOA, Hamada Elrasam has this report from Lesbos, Greece.
    Video

    Video E-readers Help Ease Africa's Book Shortage

    Millions of people in Africa can't read, and there's a chronic shortage of books. A non-profit organization called Worldreader is trying to help change all that one e-reader at a time. VOA’s Deborah Block tells us about a girls' school in Nairobi, Kenya where Worldreader is making a difference.