Christians Worried Over Egyptian Election Results

Copts’ Suffering Goes From Bad to Worse After February Uprising

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, DEC. 16, 2011 (Zenit.org).- Egyptians went to the polls this week in the second round of parliamentary elections. Official results should be available sometime over the weekend, but it is likely they will be no comfort for the country’s Christians.

In the first round of elections held earlier this month Islamic parties took around two-thirds of the vote. Of particular concern was the 24% obtained by the hardline Salifi Islamic group who regard the largest Islamic organization, the Muslim Brotherhood, as being too moderate. A third round of voting will take place in January.

A Dec. 5 report on the first round of voting by Aid to the Church in Need quoted Father Antoine Rafic Greiche, official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, as saying that the success of the Salafis was a surprise.

“Their success is a big surprise and a cause for alarm not just for Christians but for moderate Muslims who will be very annoyed by what has happened,” he said.

According to Father Greiche the Salafi Islamists were responsible for a number of attacks on Christian churches in the past year.

Coptic Christians in Egypt, who make up about 10% of the population, did not have an easy life under the regime of the former president, Hosni Mubarak. Since the popular uprisings earlier this year, however, their predicament has worsened.

Christians took an active part in the popular demonstrations that led to the overthrow of Mubarak, but, as a Dec. 6 commentary published in London’s Telegraph newspaper pointed out, this solidarity with the Muslim protest groups was not rewarded.

Bloodletting

“There is very good evidence to suggest that state security forces have not just been negligent in their handling of Christian protests, but have actually been engaged in bloodletting themselves,” the Telegraph reported.

Since the end of the Mubarak regime in February there have been a number of violent incidents involving Christians. In March there were confrontations between large groups of Christians and Muslims following the burning of a church in Cairo.

Even though the government promised to re-build the church, thousands of Christians gathered to demand equal rights, the Associated Press reported March 8. When they were attacked by groups of Muslims, one Christian was killed and around 100 injured.

The conflict continued and by the following day the toll was 13 dead and 140 injured, according to Reuters.

Matters only got worse after that and in a front-page report in the May 31 edition of the New York Times the cumulative toll for recent incidents had risen to 24 dead, more than 200 wounded, and three churches incinerated. The article noted that apart from the immediate problem of the rise of more extreme Islamic political parties there is the underlying issue of a legal system that discriminates against Christians.

Violence peaked again in October, with demonstrations outside some Christian churches by groups of Muslims. The conflicts also affected many people’s daily lives, as a report dated Oct. 8 by the Associated Press recounted.

It told of the experience of a 15-year-old Christian schoolgirl, Ferial Habib, who on arriving to her new high school was told she must wear a headscarf if she wanted to study.

«We are in a dark tunnel in terms of sectarian tension,” said her lawyer Wagdi Halfa. “Even if you have the majority who are moderate Muslims, a minority of extremists can make a big impact on them and poison their minds,» she commented.

Then, a confrontation between Christians and police left 24 dead and hundreds injured, Reuters reported Oct. 9. A large group of Christians had gathered outside the state television building in Cairo to protest the partial demolishing of a church in Aswan province by radical Muslims.

The police and the military intervened and a number of reports spoke of vehicles being driven directly at Christians and of brutal beatings.

Mourning

The leader of the Coptic Christians minority, Pope Shenouda III, proclaimed three days of mourning, praying and fasting for the victims and he also presided over funerals for some of the Christians killed.

Shortly after, videos were circulated, showing military vehicles deliberately driving over Christians, the Associated Press reported, Oct. 11. State television was accused of worsening the situation, as during the confrontation they issued an appeal for people to go and defend the soldiers, who were allegedly being attacked by the Christians.

Criticism of Egypt’s government for the officially sanctioned brutality came from the United States and the European Union. More recently, in Britain’s House of Lords there was a debate on Dec. 9 about the situation in general of Christians in the Middle East.

«We are facing religious cleansing in parts of the Middle East and may be entering what might be thought of as an Arab winter for Christians, Jews and other minority groups alike on a scale that we have not hitherto seen,» said Christopher Patten, a former minister, according to a Dec. 13 report in the Guardian newspaper.

According to the article there is widespread concern among British Christians over how Christians are treated in the Middle East. Whether this concern for Christians in general, and in particular for those in Egypt, leads to any practical actions remains to be seen.

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