As Islamists surge, Egypt`s Christians hold their breath

Last Updated: Sunday, December 4, 2011 - 23:32

Cairo: As first results of Egypt`s historic
parliamentary polls unfolded signalling a clear victory for the
Islamists, the country`s largest minority of Coptic Christians
appeared apprehensive and cautious of what the future would
hold for them in the revamped political set up.

The Christians comprise 10 per cent of the 80 million
population of Egypt, with the roots of the community in the
land pre-dating the emergence of Islam.

The Islamists were suppressed during the 30-year reign of
Hosni Mubarak, that ended early this. But, with the fall of
the dictator and the first largely free and fair elections
witnessing a not-so-spectacular performance by the secular
parties, the Christian community is holding its breath.

The Islamist surge, though, expected, has still left the
Coptic community reeling, and opinion is divided on how to
react -- whether to stay and fight for equal rights, or leave,
Al Ahram daily said in a report.

"There is a lot of panic now in the Coptic community,"
said Tharwat Bassily, a prominent Coptic businessman. However,
the panic was the result of "fear of the unknown," he added.

"I think it is too early to judge either how the Islamists
will rule or how the Copts will react. We have heard a lot of
theoretical arguments from them, but we still need to see what
they will do practically," Bassily said.

"If they ensure that the parliament and its laws remain
balanced and representative of the different factions of the
Egyptian people, then that is great. However, if they give
every law a religious twist then that is not okay," he was
quoted as saying.

While the Muslim Brotherhood`s Freedom and Justice Party
(FJP), a liberal force, has won roughly 40 per cent of the
vote in the first phase of the parliamentary elections, the
surprise showing has come from the radical Salafist Al Nur
party, that has won between 20 and 25 per cent of the vote.

Egypt`s oldest politico-religious movement, the Muslim
Brotherhood, has tried hard to stress itself as a moderate and
pragmatic group, distinct from the Al Nur party, the ultra
Conservatives who want to impose Islamic law.

The deputy head of the FJP, Essam el-Erian, has reassured
Egyptians that the party would not impose Islamic values on
Egypt, and would not encroach upon personal freedoms.

However, the Salafists, who look like emerging as the
second major force, have made no bones about their hardline
agenda. They have indicated they want to ban alcohol,
segregate men and women, impose full shariah law.

The Christians are naturally worried about their future,
more so, when the country witnessed communal tensions in the
months after the fall of Mubarak.

Father Filopater Gameel, a Coptic priest, and a leading
member of the Maspero Youth Union said he was not surprised by
the election results and pointed out how the election campaign
was dominated by the use of religious slogans and mosques
being used to promote the Islamists.

"The biggest problem I have with the Islamists is that
they are unclear and have many faces," the priest said, but
insisted that fleeing the country in the wake of such
developments was not the answer.

"The Copts will be the voice in Egypt that will continue
to call for freedom, equality and a civil state. We will
remain here and continue the fight for the beautiful and
ancient Egyptian civilisation.

"I do not agree with the decision of many Copts to
emigrate or flee the country because the Islamists won. This
is passive. I think those who leave will be very few... Egypt
will always have its Christians," he said.

The paper said that 2011 has been a difficult year for
Egypt`s Christians, who witnessed attacks on their Churches,
and deadly clashes between Coptic protesters and the army that
left at least 28 dead in what became known as the "Maspero
massacre," in front of the State TV building in Maspero.
The already jittery community is now wondering what the
changed political landscape will hold for it.

If the first phase results are anything to go by,
Islamists will be the overwhelming majority in the next
parliament. There are two more phases to go before a final
picture of the first post-Mubarak regime emerges.

Sameh Fawzy, a political analyst feels the victory of the
Muslim Brotherhood was not because democracy-hungry Egyptians
were conservative in their approach but because of the simple
reason that the group has been the longest standing and most
experienced political force in the country.

He agreed that some segments of the Coptic population were
"terrified," but said even some segments of the Muslim
population were panicking with the election outcome.

"However, the Islamists are not very good at public
policies. They have popular awareness but not social
awareness," he said.

However, there are also optimistic voices who believe what
will matter to the people at the end of the day is how well
the elected representatives govern.

"I am not worried or scared. I have no fear. The
revolution has taught the Egyptian people that that they have
a voice and if the Islamists do not perform well the people
will revolt against them," said Mina Sabet, an activist and
member of the Maspero Youth Union.

PTI



First Published: Sunday, December 4, 2011 - 23:32

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