There is much to make Christians in Egypt anxious about their relationship with Muslims. On January 1, a suicide bomb killed 23 people at an Alexandria church, and today's resignation of President Hosni Mubarak signals changes that may make Christians' presence more precarious. It's no wonder that the country's Christian minority is praying for peace more fervently than ever.
The demonstrations demanding Mubarak's resignation, which began after the January collapse of Tunisia's authoritarian government, were a rare instance of the country's Muslims and Christians uniting in common cause. Many pastors and church leaders had urged Egyptian Christians, traditionally known as Copts, not to participate in the demonstrations in Cairo's Tahrir Square.
"The things that are happening now are against God's will," Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III, 88, said on national television in early February. But many Copts joined the protests anyway, and even stood guard when Muslims paused for prayer.
As the protests began, Coptic Orthodox Bishop Markos told Christianity Today that he walked out on his neighborhood's streets and was soon surrounded by friendly protestors. Markos said, "We are all one. There are no tensions between Muslims and Christians at all in this uprising."
The bishop's statement highlighted the unity between Muslims and Christians over democratic reform. But the underlying issues of religious conversion, intermarriage, and new religious buildings will continue to fuel deep tensions. At a recent congressional hearing in Washington, D.C., Nina Shea, a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, said, "In Egypt, for the past two years, we've seen a dramatic upsurge in attacks against Copts."