Christians worry Egypt being hijacked by Islamists

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Niccolo and Donkey
Christians worry Egypt being hijacked by Islamists


Sami Aboudi

May 26, 2011

CAIRO (Reuters) - Last January, Nazih Moussa Gerges locked up his downtown Cairo law office and joined hundreds of thousands of fellow Egyptians to demand that President Hosni Mubarak step down.

The 33-year-old Christian lawyer was back on the streets this month to press military rulers who took over after Mubarak stepped down to end a spate of sectarian attacks that have killed at least 28 people and left many afraid.

Those who camped out in Tahrir Square side by side with Muslims to call for national renewal now fear their struggle is being hijacked by ultra-conservative Salafist Islamists with no one to stop them.

"We did not risk our lives to bring Mubarak down in order to have him replaced by Salafists," Gerges said. "We want an Egypt that will be an example of democracy and freedom for the whole world."

Sectarian tensions are not new to Egypt, where Christians make up around 10 percent of the population of 80 million. But the frequency and intensity of clashes have increased since Mubarak's overthrow.

Many blame a broader weakening of law and order that began as the protests against Mubarak gathered pace and police deserted the streets. Authorities are trying to rebuild security forces to deal with increased lawlessness following mass jail breakouts.

Egypt's military rulers have vowed to punish those behind sectarian clashes, banned demonstrations outside places of worship and promised to give Christians equal rights.

But Christians say no one has been tried yet for the burning of a church in Helwan, south of Cairo, in March or for violence in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba on May 7 that left 15 people dead. At least 13 died in clashes after the Helwan incident.

The army has said 190 people will face trial over the Imbaba clashes, which began when a group of Salafists demanded to look inside a church where they suspected a female convert to Islam was being held against her will.

When Christians gathered to worship in the eastern Cairo district of Ain Shams last week, they said Salafists and other local Muslims blocked access to the church and pelted them with cinder blocks.

The Christians said they had to abandon their attempt after security forces arrested eight of them.

"The General has said he will strike with an iron fist. Where is the iron fist?" said Marcelino Youssef, a spokesman for a Christian youth group that has been leading protests against sectarian attacks. He was referring to Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads Egypt's ruling military council.

For some Egyptians, including Christians, alarm over the recent inter-faith violence may be overdone. They say revolutions are often accompanied by a spike in violence that can carry sectarian undertones.

"If there are events which could lead to clashes every now and then, this may happen," said Milad Hanna, a prominent Christian thinker. "They (Muslims) are normal people, not angels."

Some blame leaders of Egypt's Coptic church for cultivating fear of Muslims, in turn stoking sectarian tension by making the Christian community more defensive.

"The Church has promoted a fear of Muslims, arguing that the Egyptian people lack awareness and that democracy will not work in our context," Muslim political scientist Amr Shobaki wrote in a column in newspaper al-Masry al-Youm on May 14.

The sectarian clashes have prompted many Christians to vent pent-up grievances at perceived discrimination since the 1970s.

Gerges recalls bitterly the time when he applied to join the prosecutor's office in southern Cairo soon after graduating from Ain Shams University with distinction.

He said he was told by the recruiting official that his qualifications made him the ideal candidate.
"Then he looked at my family name and shook his head."

For Gerges, the message was clear: a Muslim gets priority over a Christian when it comes to government jobs.

Egyptian Christians say discrimination against them starts in school.

"Coptic history has been removed" from textbooks, said Imbaba priest Sarabamon Abdo Rizeq. "How is a Muslim going to love me if he doesn't know anything about my Christianity?"

At a sit-in outside state TV headquarters by the Nile in central Cairo, protesters posted a list of what they called "The Copts' Demands."

They included giving Christians equal access to government jobs, recognizing Egypt's Coptic history by making it part of the school curriculum, and easing restrictions on the construction of churches.

Christians complain that under laws inherited from Ottoman rule, Copts are required to obtain special permits from the head of state to build or repair a church.

"Our demands are actually basic rights," said Malak Maher, 33, one of the protesters. "We want equality."

It's a little funny to hear a minority accuse the majority of hijacking the country.

Suresh Mandan
The Coptic Christians in Egypt should have known that it is difficult to live in Muslim dominated countries.Since Islam does not tolerate any other religion, it is good that minorities understand the option of staying in such countries. Minorities in other Islamic nations are surviving just as long as authoritian rulers survive. Syria would be the next country to fall to Salafist forces, later followed by Turkey. It is a writing on the wall
Niccolo and Donkey
Yes, this is all correct. Traditionally, Muslim countries have preferred to have small populations of Christians and Jews so that they could excise the "Jizye" tax from them and thus economically exploit them while driving out excess numbers of non-muslims to ensure their own dominance.

The Sunnis in Syria say "Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave!"

Jizya replaces Zakat and Jihad, which Dhimmis are not required to pay.

It took centuries to turn non-Muslim populations under Muslim rule Into Muslims, and that some remained non-Muslim even under Muslim rule (India for example) disproves the "Muslims didn't tolerate non-Muslims in their countries and forced them to convert" line.

The Arab Muslims are cleaning out the Christians for supporting secularist despots. The majority can no longer suffer the whims of the minority, let them move to Brazil and Australia.

Suresh Mandan
India was predominantly Hindu country till the arrival of Muslim rulers of all hues.The Muslims have grown to about 10% of the population in India besides those all Muslims who went to Pakistan.In India the Muslims find it difficult to dominate because 86% of the population is still Hindu and is now very resistant to Islam fundamentalism. Egypt,Syria or many other 's are Muslim majority nations and survival of the minorities there is critical.See the nations like Pakistan,Bangladesh,Malayasia in Asian continent.....minorities are always under pressure.

My point, silly bear, was that even during Islamic rule, the Hindus were not forced to convert.
That we are still talking about non-Muslims in Muslim countries is proof that the 'forced conversion/intolerant' junk is false.

Niccolo and Donkey
Forced conversion did take place as with the Devsirme under the Ottomans. As did the cleansing of non-Muslim populations throughout North Africa, the Levant, Anatolia, etc. Not everyone was cleansed, we can all concede.

Resistance wasn't tolerated and captured war prisoners were given the option, conversion or death.
Devsirme were a coveted class, Christians would pay to have their sons admitted.

Suresh Mandan
There was no islamic rule all over India at that time.Muslim rulers weren controlling some pockets in the country. Rest had Hindu ruler. Had there been total Islamic rule, india would have had been a different country. The Muslims you find in India today are predominantly converts from Hindus,Sikhs and Christians. I understand your point, but what I want to underline is that conversion was there in muslim ruled states,may be forced or through other means