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What Egyptian Christians Think About Their New Islamist President
Image: Photo by Gettty Images
What Egyptian Christians Think About Their New Islamist President

In the most democratic elections since 1952, the people of Egypt have freely chosen their leader. And for the first time in history, that leader is a native-born Islamist.

Mohamed Morsy of the Muslim Brotherhood captured 51 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating his rival Ahmed Shafik (widely perceived as the candidate of the former regime) who gathered 48 percent. Jubilant crowds in Tahrir Square celebrated into the night, though for diverse reasons.

Many rejoiced at the triumph of the candidate of Islam, one who had pledged to implement Shari'ah law. Others, nervous at the prospect of Muslim Brotherhood rule, nevertheless exulted in the triumph of the revolution, first deposing Mubarak and then defeating his former minister.

Some, though not likely in Tahrir, quietly exhaled at a democratic election and rotation of power, hopeful these gains will not be reversed.

Meanwhile, at a Christian retreat center outside of Cairo, a number of Coptic women shed tears of despair over their community's future, as they huddled around a television and watched Morsy be proclaimed the winner.

Some of the men tried to find the positive. "At least now they [the Islamists] will not burn the country," said Girgis. "It's okay, it's okay. God is present," said Maged as he stood up and left the room slowly. One of the women shut off the TV dejectedly. Some exchanged faint smiles of expectation, wondering what the next four years would hold.

The days between the election and the delayed announcement of the result filled all Egyptians with anxiety. Rumors swelled that if Shafik won, it would only be by fraud. Many imagined Islamists would at the least paralyze Egypt with demonstrations, and at the worst launch a Syria-style civil war. Other rumors outlined all the ways Islamists engaged in fraud.

The Muslim Brotherhood tried to dismiss these claims, and during his victory speech Morsy sought to assuage the fears of the Copts. "We as Egyptians, Muslims and Christians … will face together the strife and conspiracies that target our national unity," he said. "We are all equal in rights, and we all have duties towards this homeland." Morsy even proceeded to resign from the Brotherhood following his victory speech.

Some Copts are not convinced, instead believing the country has been slowly but surely manipulated into Islamist rule.

"We will be quiet now and wait and see," said Nader Wanis, who directs a cultural center in Alexandria. "Some Copts will immediately start to advocate for our rights, but in vain. Muslims are very deceiving; they speak as if they are for human rights but they will give us nothing."

Many expect the worst. "Morsy's win produces many fears for Copts, because he will establish a religious state and is against citizenship," said Nader Shukry of the Maspero Youth Union, a human and Coptic rights organization formed following the post-revolution attacks on churches. "Copts fear we will be isolated from high positions in government and society even worse than we were under Mubarak."

Most nervous are Copts along the Nile River in southern Egypt—known as Upper Egypt—whose small communities are often caught between the vagaries of rumor-filled media manipulations. One report circulating from the area, unable to be independently verified, depicts local Islamists as gathering in front of a church and firing celebratory gunfire into the air.

"Between ourselves [as Christians] we say we are for Shafik, but we cannot mention this publicly," said Father Yu'annis, a priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Upper Egypt. "But as a church we say—and believe—that we will accept who God gives us and work for the good of Egypt. Many people are afraid now and are thinking of emigrating. But Egypt is a country of rumors, and if not for these we would all be fine."

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What Egyptian Christians Think About Their New Islamist President