The largest Christian minority in the Middle East, Egypt’s Copts, celebrated Christmas last 7 january in a country that has lived its deadliest year of religious violence in decades. And the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the parlament and the presidential elections, with the success of more radical Salafis makes many of the Copts to fear that the new constitution won’t fulfill the function of protect the rights of Christians.
This situation doesn’t help Egypt, where the Coptic minority represents about a 10% on total population. Leave the country is not an option for many of them. But things doesn’t look easy. Is usual to find television sermons by radical Salafi preachers targeting Christians as a social problem. Some of them have called Muslims no to greet them Christmas.
But there are even more stunning messages on the net. Cleric Said Abdulazzim recorded a video on Youtube in wich he said that “any Muslim who befriends a Christian or a Sufi, neither of them ever tell the truth, is misguided, a traitor”.
On the streets, religious tensions are common. BBC, for example, records the testimony of a Coptic priest in Cairo, who says that his congregation is growing and it needs more facilities, but when they recently tried to build a new community centre, they were blocked by a group of local salafists.
In more extreme cases, bombings to churchs or coptic zones are growing. The last one, foiled by the police, was put in the border town of Rafah last 7 january, the day that Copts celebrates Christmas.
The greatest fear for Copts is that Egypt could become an Islamic state. President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have launched messages of conciliation. Morsi promised a national dialogue and recently Mohamed Soudan, from the Freedom and Justice Party of the Broherhood, said that Copts shouldn’t be afraid about the future: “Nothing will attack the history of the relationship between the Muslims and the Christians. They are part of our blood. No-one can change it. They are not coming from abroad”.
Egypt is now a very polarised country, with a continuous political confrontation between Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal, nationalist and youth sectors that integrate the opposition. And with this picture, messages of integration and peace like Soudan’s are so necessary.
Copts have also give some signs of concorde. Last november, new Coptic Pope was elected. Bishop Tawadros replaced Pope Shenouda III, who died in march and was more than 40 years in front of the egyptian Church. The first announcement that Tawadros made was that he rejected the political role that his ancestor used to exercise. He prefered to focus his role on spiritual issues, but also recognised his “responsibilty of preserving the shared life” that they have with the Muslims. He talked about the need to “integrate the society”.
Tawadros made a wise decision. Because his ancestor, with a very relevant political role, was well-known for his public support on dictator Hosni Mubarak. And Copts were told to stay away from the protests that ended with his regime. Now, the Christians have to move away from this link with the old Egypt and show their will of integration. The civil actions must take the place that the Church has now left to build a new society.