Egypt's Christians After Mubarak
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."
Many Christian leaders believe that the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic political group banned in Egypt, will grow in political power with Mubarak's ouster. The brotherhood maintains strong support among some Egyptians. Religious-freedom analysts believe the leaders of the brotherhood, famous for the slogan "Islam is the solution," could very well usher in repression of all minority religious groups. Christians are Egypt's largest minority, representing 6 to 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million people. About 90 percent of all Christians in Egypt are Orthodox.
But while most Egyptian Muslims are Sunni, like the brotherhood, they are not as fundamentalist as it is. One Coptic Orthodox businessman based in Cairo told CT that he was surprised that Christians' property was not targeted during the growing protests. "I thought that the first thing to be attacked [by protestors] would be the churches," he said.
"It wasn't like that. In the neighborhood of my parents, there are many mosques and churches. No single mosque has announced anything against us Christians. Very soon, a big change will happen. Egypt has been like someone sleeping. Now, wake up! Do something better."
Egypt hosts a small but influential population of Protestants and evangelicals (more than 250,000), mostly located in Cairo and other major cities. Most are either Presbyterian, Methodist, or Anglican, and many congregations are linked to the Evangelical Fellowship of Egypt. In addition to churches, dozens of ministries and agencies maintain sizable operations in Egypt. SAT-7, the Arabic-language Christian satellite broadcast channel, has 65 employees at its offices in Cairo.
Terence Ascott, CEO of SAT-7, said, "Our prayer is that the current unrest will eventually result in positive change leading to greater justice, security, and political openness in the country—for all Egyptians."