Egypt’s Christians fearful of an uncertain future

The protests in Egypt may continue unabated, but not everyone is so ready to see Hosni Mubarak removed from power. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, many of the nation’s minority Coptic Christians are concerned for their future in an unstable Egypt:

Fear of what may follow the removal of Mr. Mubarak, a secular strongman who has ruled the country for the past 30 years, is making reluctant supporters out of the country’s Christians, an estimated 10% of Egypt’s 80 million population.

Mr. Mubarak has been aggressive in pursuing suspected Islamist extremist groups, a policy that has endeared him to Coptic Christians, not to mention the U.S. Many Copts worry that Mr. Mubarak’s exit would leave them dangerously exposed—either by chaos, or to a government that may be more tolerant of Islamist extremists. . . .

“We need Mubarak. What we need above all is to be safe,” said Samy Farag, director of the St. Mark’s Hospital, which is attached to the church and where the dead and injured were brought after the bombing [at a Coptic church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day].

“We feel safer with him because he heads a big, strong party. If he leaves, parties will come to power that we don’t know,” said the 65-year-old doctor. He added that this included any government headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner and former international nuclear official.

“We just don’t know what their policies toward Christians would be,” Dr. Farag said.

What’s the saying — better the devil you know than the devil you don’t? Still, it’s not an irrational fear: It’s generally accepted that the Iraqi Christian community didn’t suffer much in the way of sectarian violence while Saddam Hussein was in power (whatever other evils he perpetrated in the name of that “stability”); since the fall of his regime, half a million Iraqi Christians have fled the country, where threats against their safety seem to be on the rise. To have a community as ancient as the Coptic Church (which was founded in Alexandria in AD 42) suffer a similar fate would be disastrous.

Of course, Egypt is not Iraq. The way many Muslims rallied to the Copts’ defense after the terrorist attack in Alexandria last month could be a hopeful sign for a peaceful future — but the fear of uncertainty is understandable. The best thing we can do now is pray — hard and often — for a peaceful transition to a truly free and fair political system in Egypt.

Margaret Cabaniss

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Margaret Cabaniss is the former managing editor of Crisis Magazine. She joined Crisis in 2002 after graduating from the University of the South with a degree in English Literature and currently lives in Baltimore, Maryland. She now blogs at SlowMama.com.

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