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Sectarian Strife Scaring Away Egypt’s Christians

An Egyptian stands on the wall of St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral on 8 April, as a car burned during the previous day’s clashes between Muslims and Christians is pictured in the foreground. At least two people died during the clashes outside the cathedral, and more than 80 were injured. (photo: CNS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh, Reuters) 

Democratic elections in Egypt last year resulted in a new government controlled largely by the religiously conservative Muslim Brotherhood, whose members were officially banned under the almost three-decade autocratic rule of former President Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in the January 2011 revolution.

Now, anti-Brotherhood and other protests, including among some of the country’s security forces, have resulted in often-fatal clashes, lawlessness and heightened crime. Adding to these problems are skyrocketing prices for basic foods and an economy on the verge of collapse due to the almost total loss of international business and tourism, which previously accounted for major sources of Egypt’s national income.

The generally bad state of affairs in the country has worried many Egyptians, especially the Christian minority, who say at times of trouble — and moreover now when there is no strong government force to protect them — they risk becoming victims of attack.

“They feel they are very vulnerable. They are surrounded by the [Muslim] majority [and] they no longer feel comfortable. They feel ... as American blacks in America did before civil rights, because there is no system that protects them,” said Maryknoll Father Douglas May, who has lived in Egypt for 18 years.

Father May said that, although under Mubarak there were restrictions on minorities, such as bans on building churches and large gatherings, the Christians felt safer because there was at least a sense that Egypt was under control.

Now, “they feel if there is an issue, there is vigilante violence,” May told CNS in March.

But Hani al Mahdi, CRS country representative to Egypt, said the widespread hardships in present-day Egypt cut across sectarian lines and that both many Muslims as well as Christians were desperate due to huge unemployment, escalating prices, increased crime, instability and lack of security.

“The needs are immense, the economy is really deteriorating quickly [and] businesses are closing. Two thousand factories have closed in two years. If you take on average 200 [people] per factory, you understand how many have lost jobs,” he said.

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Tags: Egypt Violence against Christians Christian-Muslim relations Emigration Catholic-Muslim relations