Egyptian Christians Face the Future Under New Islamist Law
Nevine Guirgis, a woman's leader with the liberal Social Democratic Party, agrees. Looking at the low turnout for the constitutional vote despite heavy campaigning by Islamists for shari'ah, she said, "It is clear Islamists are a minority that is trying to kidnap Egypt, and people are waking up to it. But this is not about fighting back; this is about building our future."
But as liberals have consistently failed to win at the polls, some place a morose hope in Egypt's expected financial difficulties to aid their parliamentary campaign.
"There is an economic disaster coming," said Michael Nabil, an Egyptian accountant. Since the revolution, Egypt has lost more than half of its foreign currency reserve fighting inflation and devaluation. "This will affect the situation negatively for the Muslim Brotherhood and give the opposition more credibility," he said.
Yet other Christians seek a more positive message and advocate focusing on society and social justice.
"We need to check in with the man on the street and see what he needs. Islamists do this, but we do not," said Bassem Victor, a Coptic activist working to build bridges with Egypt's ultraconservative Salafi Muslims. "We have to make clear we defend the rights of all—especially economically. If the people know Christians will defend others, they will also defend us."
Few Christians advocate what Labib fears will become a renewed isolation within church walls. Instead, many foresee a silver lining of renewed faith.
"There is no connection to political stability and the success of the gospel," said Atallah. "In fact, the opposite might be true: People depend more on God in difficult times."Maybe God will use the Muslim Brotherhood to do his will in Egypt, even if we don't want them to be in charge," he said.
In fact, for Simaan, who organized the prayer gathering in the cave church, Christians must include Islamists in their prayers and vision for Egypt.
"We are here tonight to pray for Egypt in all that it is going through, and let us pray with tears," he said as his voice boomed through the outdoor auditorium. "We pray for our brothers, both Christian and Muslim. We pray for our brothers, the Salafis and the Muslim Brothers." His words drew great applause.
Few Christians in the audience would applaud the politics of Islamists, but most have now become more politically aware. The Christian challenge for the coming year is to determine the best means of engagement.
"The Islamists have their shari'ah and their plans, and God will hold them accountable according to what they have received," said Simaan. "But he will hold [us] accountable for how [we] live with them."