News / Middle East

Egypt's Copts Welcome Government Change

Egypt's Copts Welcome Change of Governmenti
X
July 19, 2013 1:14 PM
Clouds of flies cover the piles of trash stuffed into homes and filling the alleyways here, buzzing in the midday heat. A woman leans out of her second story window, and deliberately drops a black plastic bag filled with trash that splats onto the ground below. The smell rising from every corner of this slum in the middle of Cairo is enough to tell you where you are: Garbage City. VOA’s Sharon Behn has the story.
Sharon Behn
Clouds of flies cover piles of trash stuffed into homes and filling the alleyways, buzzing in the midday heat. A woman leans out of her second story window, and deliberately drops a black plastic bag filled with trash that splats onto the ground below. The smell rising from every corner of this slum in the middle of Cairo is enough to tell you where you are: Garbage City.
 
The majority of people who live and work here, picking through mounds of trash with their hands to salvage what is recyclable, are Egypt's minority Coptic Christians. For decades, the Coptic community has been discriminated against, making it difficult for many to break out of this cycle of poverty. The fuel and power shortages and inflation of the past year have hit them hard.
 
Local shop owners say business has been bad, they have had trouble buying merchandise, and the security situation has been unstable. But they say the discrimination they felt under recently ousted Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi hit them even harder.
 
On the edge of the slum, through a large gate, is a huge open-air Coptic church carved out of cliffs of stone. Giant carvings of the life of Christ decorate the cliff walls. Coptic priest, Father Samaan, sat in a small underground room at the foot of the cliffs, and told VOA that life under Morsi had been hard.

“Justice did not exist,” he said. “Egypt was full of thugs, there was chaos, robberies, people were kidnapped.”

But there was more than that. Coptic churches were attacked, and Christians killed. Father Samaan said there was discrimination across the board, with Christians unable to get government jobs.
 


Under Morsi, Christians were too afraid to speak out, said Iskander Thabet, a local businessman. “Now things are completely different than during the past year,” he said. “Then we lived in great fear, horror, we were worried. We were scared to say we were Christian, or anything else. They would talk badly about our sisters, wives or daughters because we dress differently. What we went through was very difficult,” said Thabet.
 
But sectarian violence has increased dramatically in Egypt in the past few weeks, with Copts again as the major target. The Muslim Brotherhood has blamed the Copts, among others, for supporting the military's ouster of Morsi on July 3.

Erin Evers of Human Rights Watch in Cairo, said Copts are now being attacked for both being Christian and because they are seen as the most obvious opponents to Morsi.
 
Evers said while the Copts have not fared well for decades in Egypt, HRW is concerned by the spike in sectarian incidents in the past couple of weeks.

“It's really just happening across Egypt. It's not a matter of really being concentrated in the south or the north. It's just in cities all over Egypt, in five different cities so far. In some of the instances it is really clear that it is pro-Morsi supporters who are carrying out the attacks and in [some] instances it's not clear at all.”
 
Evers said that the country still has a strong sense of Egyptian nationalism. But she added that as the political fabric of Egypt starts to come apart under the pressure of constant demonstrations and lawlessness, xenophobia is growing.
 
Despite that, pharmacy student Hanat, wearing jeans and a ponytail, said as a Copt she feels a deep sense of relief that the Islamists are no longer in power, and welcomes the military's overthrow of Morsi.
 
“Now that the army is on our side, we feel safer; we feel that Egypt has been returned to us, that we have our strength back, everything. I feel like I had been tied, and now I am free. Egypt will be returned to us,” Hanat said.
 
Father Samaan, while sharing the hope among many Copts that life will improve under a new government, said concrete steps have to be taken to end discrimination. First, he said, any new constitution should be a secular one, and second, any reference to religion should be removed from the national identity cards.
 
“We are still praying that this great Egypt, this country they call the mother of the world, will become a model of non-discrimination for the world, where religion is for God alone and the homeland is for everyone,” he said.
 
Men coming to visit Father Samaan approach him respectfully, kissing his hand and asking for his blessing. He is a community elder to whom his followers listen. Their hope is that Egypt's new leadership will do the same.

You May Like

Video One Year After Thai Coup, No End in Sight for Military Rule

Since carrying out the May 22, 2014 coup, the general has retired from the military but is still firmly in charge More

Job-Seeking Bangladeshis Risk Lives to Find Work

The number of Bangladeshi migrants on smugglers’ boats bound for Southeast Asian countries has soared in the past two years More

Video Scientists Say We Need Softer Robots

Today’s robots are mostly hard, rigid machines, with sharp edges and forceful movements, but researchers at Carnegie Mellon University say they should be softer and therefore safer More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthroughi
X
May 22, 2015 10:23 AM
Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Turkey's Main Opposition Party Hopes for Election Breakthrough

Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party has sought an image change ahead of the June 7 general election. The move comes after suffering successive defeats at the hands of the Islamist-rooted AK Party, which has portrayed it as hostile to religion. Dorian Jones reports from the western city of Izmir.
Video

Video Europe Follows US Lead in Tackling ‘Conflict Minerals’

Metals mined from conflict zones in places like the Democratic Republic of Congo are often sold by warlords to buy weapons. This week European lawmakers voted to force manufacturers to prove that their supply chains are not inadvertently fueling conflicts and human rights abuses. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
Video

Video Class Tackles Questions of Race, Discrimination

Unrest in some U.S. cities is more than just a trending news item at Ladue Middle School in St. Louis, Missouri. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, it’s a focus of a multicultural studies class engaging students in wide-ranging discussions about racial tensions and police aggression.
Video

Video Mind-Controlled Prosthetics Are Getting Closer

Scientists and engineers are making substantial advances towards the ultimate goal in prosthetics – creation of limbs that can be controlled by the wearer’s mind. Thanks to sophisticated sensors capable of picking up the brain’s signals, an amputee in Iceland is literally bringing us one step closer to that goal. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Afghan Economy Sinks As Foreign Troops Depart

As international troops prepare to leave Afghanistan, and many foreign aid groups follow, Afghans are grappling with how the exodus will affect the country's fragile economy. Ayesha Tanzeem reports from the Afghan capital, Kabul.
Video

Video Poverty, Ignorance Force Underage Girls Into Marriage

The recent marriage of a 17-year old Chechen girl to a local police chief who was 30 years older and already had a wife caused an outcry in Russia and beyond. The bride was reportedly forced to marry and her parents were intimidated into giving their consent. The union spotlighted yet again the plight of many underage girls in developing countries. Zlatica Hoke reports poverty, ignorance and fear are behind the practice, especially in Asia and Africa.
Video

Video South Korea Marks Gwangju Uprising Anniversary

South Korea this week marked the 35th anniversary of a protest that turned deadly. The Gwangju Uprising is credited with starting the country’s democratic revolution after it was violently quelled by South Korea’s former military rulers. But as Jason Strother reports, some observers worry that democracy has recently been eroded.
Video

Video California’s Water System Not Created To Handle Current Drought

The drought in California is moving into its fourth year. While the state's governor is mandating a reduction in urban water use, most of the water used in California is for agriculture. But both city dwellers and farmers are feeling the impact of the drought. Some experts say the state’s water system was not created to handle long periods of drought. Elizabeth Lee reports from Ventura County, an agricultural region just northwest of Los Angeles.
Video

Video How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction

An international team of scientists has sequenced the complete genome of the woolly mammoth. Led by the Swedish Museum of Natural History in Stockholm, the work opens the door to recreate the huge herbivore, which last roamed the Earth 4,000 years ago. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble considers the science of de-extinction and its place on the planet
Video

Video Blind Boy Defines His Life with Music

Cole Moran was born blind. He also has cognitive delays and other birth defects. He has to learn everything by ear. Nevertheless, the 12-year-old has had an insatiable love for music since he was born. VOA’s June Soh introduces us to the young phenomenal harmonica player.

VOA Blogs