The Fight for Egypt's Future
The Fight for Egypt's Future
To see how Egypt's revolution has changed the lives of its 8 million Copts (Egyptian Christians), walk one block from its epicenter: Tahrir Square.
Pass between the effigies hanging from street lamps, past the ramshackle tents of demonstrators, and turn right at the graffiti-covered concrete blocks barricading the newly elected parliament and loathed police headquarters.
Here sits the largest evangelical Arabic-speaking church in the world—6,000-member Kasr El Dobara (KDEC). The sturdy white sanctuary, lined with tall stained-glass windows depicting New Testament stories of Jesus, is half full on the Sunday evening before the first anniversary of military dictator Hosni Mubarak's February 11 downfall. Attendance is low. Four days earlier, more than 70 soccer fans were massacred in the coastal city of Port Said. A short distance away, angry demonstrators clash with police.
Flanked by two Egyptian flags, head pastor Sameh Maurice preaches from 2 Peter. Just beyond the sanctuary's heavy oak front doors, volunteer doctors treat a wounded demonstrator on a metal cot. Church members used to share coffee and conversation in the open air of the tiled courtyard. Now KDEC runs a 24/7 field hospital for the wounded.
The service ends with the Lord's Prayer and instructions for members to exit through the church's back entrance—tear gas is in the air in front. A short time later, a wailing ambulance arrives, delivering six young men. One clutches his wrist; another reveals a back peppered with birdshot. Another will probably lose his eye.
Violence Strikes Home
The following night, the violence touches the church family. A KDEC teenager is shot near Tahrir. News spreads that someone kidnapped the daughter of a church member. Another member is found dead, murdered on his way home from the airport.
"Lord, let this be the pain of childbirth," prays Maurice. "Let the suffering bring life."
The graffiti covering downtown Cairo chronicles the elated optimism of the Egyptian revolution's early days. Spray-painted pairings of crosses and crescents abound. But today's headlines belie that peace and prosperity are near at hand.
A report by the Maspero Youth Union, a leading religious advocacy group, documents six violent attacks against Copts during the first year of the revolution, compared with fifteen during Mubarak's entire 30-year reign. The front page of Egypt's only Coptic newspaper, Watani, regularly reports incidents of "collective punishment" in which Christian families in rural villages are ordered to leave town in order to preserve the peace after an individual Christian's transgression.
Last week Copts protested in Cairo after a state security court in Minya sentenced 12 Copts to life in prison while acquitting 8 Muslims for their roles in a deadly April 2011 fight that killed several Muslims and destroyed dozens of Christian homes and businesses. And today Copts are facing blame for "betraying the revolution" after the first free presidential election in Egypt's history—despite more than a year of revolutionary activism—resulted in a runoff between two all-too-familiar choices: the old Mubarak regime vs. the Muslim Brotherhood.
Are Christians fleeing Egypt? Some, yes. Nearly every church can name a family that has emigrated. Many more families desire to follow suit but cannot.
But the closer one looks, an irony emerges. Coptic leaders report that a significant number of Christians, especially in rural or poor communities, do fear the future. But many of the most ardently Christian—former Muslims who now follow Christ and have the most to lose under an Islamist government—are the most eager to stay. They hold to their love of country—and to their belief in God's promise in Isaiah 19: "Blessed be Egypt my people."