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.
    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.

    Sharon Behn

    Sharon Behn is a foreign correspondent working out of Voice of America’s headquarters in Washington D.C  Her current beat focuses on political, security and humanitarian developments in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. Follow Sharon on Twitter and on Facebook.

    You May Like

    US-Russia Tensions Complicate Syria War

    With a shared enemy and opposing allies, Russia and the US are working to avoid confrontation

    Video Re-opening Old Wounds in Beirut's Bullet-riddled Yellow House

    Built in neo-Ottoman style in 1920s, it is set to be re-opened in Sept. as ‘memory museum’ - bullet-riddled walls and bunkered positions overlooking city’s notorious ‘Green Line’ maintained for posterity

    Cambodian-Americans Lobby for Human Rights Resolution

    Resolution condemns all forms of political violence in Cambodia, urges Cambodian government to end human rights violations, calls for respect of press freedom

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territoryi
    X
    June 24, 2016 9:38 PM
    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Brexit Vote Plunges Global Markets Into Uncharted Territory

    British voters plunged global markets into unknown territory after they voted Thursday to leave the European Union. The results of the Brexit vote, the term coined to describe the referendum, caught many off guard. Analysts say the resulting volatility could last for weeks, perhaps longer. Mil Arcega reports.
    Video

    Video Orlando Shooting Changes Debate on Gun Control

    It’s been nearly two weeks since the largest mass shooting ever in the United States. Despite public calls for tighter gun control laws, Congress is at an impasse. Democratic lawmakers resorted to a 1960s civil rights tactic to portray their frustration. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti explains how the Orlando, Florida shooting is changing the debate.
    Video

    Video Tunisian Fishing Town Searches for Jobs, Local Development Solutions

    As the European Union tries to come to grips with its migrant crisis, some newcomers are leaving voluntarily. But those returning to their home countries face an uncertain future.  Five years after Tunisia's revolution, the tiny North African country is struggling with unrest, soaring unemployment and plummeting growth. From the southern Tunisian fishing town of Zarzis, Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at a search for local solutions.
    Video

    Video 'American Troops' in Russia Despite Tensions

    Historic battle re-enactment is a niche hobby with a fair number of adherents in Russia where past military victories are played-up by the Kremlin as a show of national strength. But, one group of World War II re-enactors in Moscow has the rare distinction of choosing to play western ally troops. VOA's Daniel Schearf explains.
    Video

    Video Experts: Very Few Killed in US Gun Violence Are Victims of Mass Shootings

    The deadly shooting at a Florida nightclub has reignited the debate in the U.S. over gun control. Although Congress doesn't provide government health agencies funds to study gun violence, public health experts say private research has helped them learn some things about the issue. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.
    Video

    Video Trump Unleashes Broadside Against Clinton to Try to Ease GOP Doubts

    Recent public opinion polls show Republican Donald Trump slipping behind Democrat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election matchup for November. Trump trails her both in fundraising and campaign organization, but he's intensifying his attacks on the former secretary of state. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.
    Video

    Video Muslim American Mayor Calls for Tolerance

    Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah describes himself as "an American mayor who happens to be Muslim." As the three-term mayor of Prospect Park, New Jersey, he believes his town of 6,000 is an example of how ethnicity and religious beliefs should not determine a community's leadership. Ramon Taylor has this report from Prospect Park.
    Video

    Video Internal Rifts Over Syria Policy Could Be Headache for Next US President

    With the Obama administration showing little outward enthusiasm for adopting a more robust Syria policy, there is a strong likelihood that the internal discontent expressed by State Department employees will roll over to the next administration. VOA State Department correspondent Pam Dockins reports.
    Video

    Video Senegal to Park Colorful ‘Cars Rapide’ Permanently

    Brightly painted cars rapide are a hallmark of Dakar, offering residents a cheap way to get around the capital city since 1976. But the privately owned minibuses are scheduled to be parked for good in late 2018, as Ricci Shryock reports for VOA.
    Video

    Video Florida Gets $1 Million in Emergency Government Funding for Orlando

    The U.S. government has granted $1 million in emergency funding to the state of Florida to cover the costs linked to the June 12 massacre in Orlando. U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced the grant Tuesday in Orlando, where she met with survivors of the shooting attack that killed 49 people. Zlatica Hoke reports.
    Video

    Video How to Print Impossible Shapes with Metal

    3-D printing with metals is rapidly becoming more advanced. As printers become more affordable, the industry is partnering with universities to refine processes for manufacturing previously impossible things. A new 3-D printing lab aims to bring the new technology closer to everyday use. VOA's George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Big Somali Community in Minnesota Observes Muslim Religious Feast

    Ramadan is widely observed in the north central US state of Minnesota, which a large Muslim community calls home. VOA Somali service reporter Mohmud Masadde files this report from Minneapolis, the state's biggest city.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora