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

Hostage Crisis Could Divide Japan Over Plans to Boost Military

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Monday the government is working closely with the Jordanian government to secure the release of remaining Japanese hostage Kenji Goto More

Video Brussels Shaken as New Greek Leader Challenges Europe’s Austerity Drive

Country's youngest ever PM Alexis Tsipras, 40, sworn in Monday and says he will restore dignity to Greece by ending spending cuts More

Multimedia National Geographic Photo Camps Empower Youth

Annual mentoring program's mission is to give young people a voice to tell their own stories through photography More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visiti
X
Aru Pande
January 26, 2015 9:33 PM
U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video Obama Urges Closer Economic Ties During Historic India Visit

U.S. President Barack Obama says the United States and India must do better to capitalize on untapped potential in their economic relationship - by removing some of the roadblocks to greater trade and investment. As VOA correspondent Aru Pande reports from New Delhi, Obama spoke after participating in India’s Republic Day celebration.
Video

Video US, EU Threaten New Russia Sanctions Over Ukraine

U.S. President Barack Obama has blamed Russia for an attack by Ukrainian separatists that left dozens dead in the port of Mariupol and cast further doubt on the viability of last year’s cease-fire with the Kyiv government. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports from Washington.
Video

Video White House Grapples With Yemen Counterterrorism Strategy

Reports say the U.S. has carried out a drone strike on suspected militants in Yemen, the first after President Barack Obama offered reassurances the U.S. is continuing its counterterrorism operations in the country. The future of those operations has been in question following the collapse last week of Yemen’s government. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Kerry Warns Against Violence in Nigeria Election

US Secretary of State John Kerry visited Nigeria Sunday in a show of the level of concern within the U.S. and the international community over next month’s presidential election. Chris Stein reports.
Video

Video Zoo Animals Show Their Artistic Sides

The pursuit of happiness is so important, America's founding fathers put it in the Declaration of Independence. Any zookeeper will tell you animals need enrichment, just like humans do. So painting, and even music, are part of the Smithsonian National Zoo's program to keep the animals happy. VOA’s June Soh met some animal artists at the zoo in Washington. Faith Lapidus narrates.
Video

Video Worldwide Photo Workshops Empower Youth

Last September, 20 young adults from South Sudan took part in a National Geographic Photo Camp. They are among hundreds of students from around the world who have learned how to use a camera to tell the stories of the people in their communities through the powerful medium of photography. Three camp participants talked about their experiences recently on a visit to Washington. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
Video

Video Saudi, Yemen Developments Are Sudden Complications for Obama

The death of Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah and the collapse of Yemen’s government have cast further uncertainty on U.S. efforts to fight militants in the Middle East and also contain Iran’s influence in the region. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports on the new complications facing the Obama administration and its Middle East policy.
Video

Video Progress, Some Areas of Disagreement in Cuba Talks

U.S. and Cuban officials are reporting progress from initial talks in Havana on re-establishing diplomatic ties. U.S. Assistant Secretary of State (for Western Hemisphere Affairs) Roberta Jacobson said while there was agreement on a broad range of issues, there also are some “profound disagreements” between Washington and Havana. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins has the story.
Video

Video US, Japan Offer Lessons as Eurozone Launches Huge Stimulus

The Euro currency has fallen sharply after the European Central Bank announced a bigger-than-expected $67 billion-a-month quantitative easing program Thursday - commonly seen as a form of printing new money. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London on whether the move might rescue the eurozone economy -- and what lessons have been learned from similar programs around the world.
Video

Video Nigerian Elections Pose Concern of Potential Conflict in 'Middle Belt'

Nigeria’s north-central state of Kaduna has long been the site of fighting between Muslims and Christians as well as between people of different ethnic groups. As the February elections approach, community and religious leaders are making plans they hope will keep the streets calm after results are announced. Chris Stein reports from the state capital, Kaduna.
Video

Video As Viewership Drops, Obama Puts His Message on YouTube

Ratings reports show President Obama’s State of the Union address this week drew the lowest number of viewers for this annual speech in 15 years. White House officials anticipated this, and the president has decided to take a non-traditional approach to getting his message out. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video S. Korean Businesses Want to End Trade Restrictions With North

Business leaders in South Korea are calling for President Park Geun-hye to ease trade restrictions with North Korea that were put in place in 2010 after the sinking of a South Korean warship.Pro-business groups argue that expanding trade and investment is not only good for business, it is also good for long-term regional peace and security. VOA’s Brian Padden reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid