Print Edition: March 8, 2015
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After suffering severe persecution under ousted President Mohammed Morsi, Christians hope the regime change will improve their situation in the Arab nation.
BY PETER JESSERER SMITH
CAIRO — Christians in Egypt have thrown their full support behind the popular uprising that has toppled the Islamist government of Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood after suffering the worst persecution in decades.
Egypt’s Christians have celebrated the Egyptian Army’s decision to force President Morsi out of power and set up a new government, after millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand Morsi’s ouster.
The June 30 protests sponsored by the Tamarod (“Rebel”) movement are being called the largest mass demonstration in world history.
With Morsi under arrest, Adli Mansour was sworn into office as Egypt’s interim president, while new presidential elections are set up and plans to write a new constitution are put in place.
Christian leaders have praised the military-assisted popular uprising to depose Morsi as a recovery of the ideals of the January 2011 revolution that saw Christians and Muslims demanding political freedoms and the fall of dictator Hosni Mubarak.
“How wonderful are the Egyptian people recovering their stolen revolution in a civilized manner with the idea of Tamarod and its great youth’s sacrifice,” tweeted Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II.
Pope Tawadros II also tweeted in support of the decision to remove Morsi, praising “three greats of Egypt — the people, the army and the youth.”
The Tamarod movement collected 22 million petitions demanding Morsi resign and hand over power to an interim president and enact constitutional reforms. In contrast, Morsi was elected president after a runoff in which he narrowly won with 51.7% of the 25 million ballots cast, or 13 million votes.
“With the revolution [Christians] have discovered their freedom, and they intend to fight with the rest of the population to have a life worth living, a life worthy of a man,” Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak of Alexandria, the leader of Coptic Catholics said in an Italian interview with The Holy Land Review (TerraSanta.net).
Both Christian leaders have encouraged the youth of Egypt not to back down and to demand that Egypt’s government reflect a democratic constitution that includes all the voices of Egypt. Christians are estimated to make up 10% of Egypt’s population of 85 million people, according to the CIA World Factbook, with members of the Coptic Orthodox Church accounting for 9%.
Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman for Egypt’s Catholic Conference, told Aid to the Church in Need that the fall of Morsi marked a “new political beginning” and “a joyous day for us Christians in Egypt and for all Egyptians.”
“We hope that we will not be excluded from the political process that lies before us,” Father Greiche said. He added that “the non-Islamist opposition has found a new unity,” and the Egyptian people were rejecting the Muslim Brotherhood’s neglect of the economy as they pursued their Islamist dreams of building a new Caliphate in the Middle East.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s fall from power could prove a decisive moment for the future of Coptic Christianity in Egypt.
Ashraf Ramelah, president of the nonprofit advocacy group Voice of the Copts, told the Register that Christians will have the most to lose in the revolution against Morsi and the radical Islamist Muslim Brotherhood. Already, Morsi supporters have attacked Christians and set ablaze St. George Coptic Church in the village of al-Minya.
But Ramelah said Christians realize that overthrowing the Muslim Brotherhood is preferable to certain extinction.
“Under Morsi, Copts reached the worst situation in 60 years,” Ramelah said.
Since the Muslim Brotherhood took power, the situation of Egypt’s Christians has deteriorated rapidly. Ramelah said that not only had attacks on Christian communities rapidly increased under Morsi, but churches have been attacked or bombed.
In an unprecedented move, Islamists besieged St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo, the heart of Coptic Orthodoxy, in broad daylight. More than 500 Christian women have been kidnapped by Islamists to face forced conversion, rape or forced marriage.
Samir Assaad, an Egyptian Melkite, told the Register that he took his wife and three daughters with him from Egypt in August 2012 to the U.S. because he feared for their lives and safety. He did not want his children kidnapped on their way to school — a fate suffered by other Christian friends and neighbors.
Just going to church required an act of faith, he explained.
“You go, you pray, and you don’t know whether your church will be bombed or not,” Assaad said.
Assaad also said the Muslim Brotherhood’s religious police would muster around the churches before their liturgies and would harass Christian women for not being covered head to toe in burqas. “It’s like Saudi Arabia,” he said.
He explained these same religious police would attack women — Christians or Muslims — for driving cars, not wearing Islamic dress or the “crime” of wearing makeup and heels. Assaad said the religious police would either beat women with sticks or kill them.
Assaad is just one voice of a Christian diaspora streaming from Egypt to other countries such as the United States. The Coptic Orthodox Church in North America is expecting the influx of Christian refugees from Egypt to continue.
“We have a huge influx of immigration of Egyptian Christians,” said Father Michael Sorial, director of public relations for the Coptic Orthodox Archdiocese of North America. “We don’t expect the trend to stop anytime soon.”
Father Sorial said that they hope Christians will stay and help Egypt’s moderate Muslims build a better future. However, he said the Coptic Church in the U.S. is prepared to welcome Christians emigrating from Egypt with ESL (English as a Second Language) courses and social services.
“Although there is hope in Egypt, there’s quite a bit of uncertainty,” he said.
As Egypt seethes and teeters on violence, Egypt’s military has declared a state of emergency in various parts of Egypt. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has plans to strike back, but both Morsi and the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, Mohammed Badie, remain under house arrest.
“The country is already in a state of civil war,” Ramelah said.
Both the Catholic and Orthodox churches in Egypt have rejected Western media descriptions of the revolution as a military coup, and they have praised the Army for supporting the will of the people, just as they did in the January 2011 revolution against Mubarak.
“They took the side of the people against Morsi,” Assaad said. Without the Army’s intervention, he said, nothing would have stopped the Muslim Brotherhood’s militia from attacking the protesters. “The Army is faithful to the Egyptian people. They did a good job with Mubarak and did an even better job with Morsi.”
Ramelah said the revolution is rejecting the Muslim Brotherhood’s vision of political Islam, now that sharia (Islamic law) has failed to make life better for Egypt or provide the basic necessities of life for millions of Egyptians.
“The country has reached the bottom of everything,” he said.
Anger Directed at U.S.
But Ramelah said Egyptians have enormous anger against the United States for interfering in Egyptian politics and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood. Ramelah said U.S. Ambassador Ann Patterson tried to pressure the Coptic pope to condemn the June 30 Tarawod protests and also gave assurances to the Muslim Brotherhood that the U.S. government could exert pressure in the region to support it.
Protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have denounced President Barack Obama and Patterson by name — with signs written in English, not Arabic, Ramelah said, for the benefit of the U.S. and Western viewers.
Ramelah said the U.S. support of the Muslim Brotherhood in the Middle East was astonishing, since it would also threaten the continued existence of Israel. Ramelah said “the writing is on the wall for Israel” if the Brotherhood achieved the goal articulated by Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, to unite the Middle East into a single state (a new Caliphate) for Muslims with its capital in Jerusalem.
“America is not supporting democracy. This administration is supporting terrorists,” he said, pointing out that the Obama administration has not spoken out against the Muslim Brotherhood’s violent persecution of both moderate Muslims and Christians in not only Egypt, but also Libya, Tunisia and particularly in Syria, where Christians have suffered greatly from the Islamist-dominated rebels.
“The only supporters of the U.S. in the Middle East, outside of Israel, were the Christians,” Ramelah said. “Now, the U.S. has lost even them.”
Register correspondent Peter Jesserer Smith writes from Rochester, New York.
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