Egypt’s Christians, Fearing Instability, Seek Security Elsewhere

April 10, 2013 by Open Doors in General


In downtown Cairo, the multicolored pharaoh-motif tablecloths and dishtowels are missing from their normal display case in a fabric store. The owner of the textile factory that produced them closed down and left Egypt soon after the country’s 2011 revolution. Assad Attiya, a clerk who had worked at the store for 13 years, said the former factory owner is, like himself, a Christian. “The owner is afraid to come back. It is harder here now and we want to leave,” explained Attiya, 48, from behind a nearly bare counter he said was once “lined with beautiful linens.”

Attiya said he had applied the last two years for U.S. residency-a green card-through a lottery system that Washington sponsors, but wasn’t selected. A few months ago, his request for a tourist visa to visit his brother who works in an amusement park in New York, was denied.

Perhaps the most dramatic recent example of sectarian tension occurred Sunday in central Cairo, when a crowd attacked Christian mourners emerging from a funeral in Egypt’s main Coptic Christian cathedral. The funeral was for four men killed in a Cairo gunfight Friday, in which a Muslim man also was killed. Some of the mourners, joined by sympathetic Muslims, filed out of St. Mark’s Cathedral shouting exhortations against Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi and his largely Islamic government. The crowd responded to the demonstrators with rocks and gasoline bombs. Police eventually moved in, but numerous independent news agencies reported that police appeared to take the side of crowd, firing tear-gas canisters into the St. Mark’s courtyard and taking no action to protect the Christians and their church.

Egyptians, including thousands of Muslims, opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood government, demonstrate and strike almost daily. The country’s military and other security forces have been at odds with the new government, and at times have withdrawn completely from different cities around the country. Though there were restrictions on minorities under Mubarak, Christians felt safer because the regime maintained order in the country. The post-revolution state of instability, economic decay and rising crime have scared many Egyptians into leaving, or trying to-especially Egyptian Christians who say they are easy targets when trouble erupts, and there is no system in place to protect them.

In Egypt’s regions south of Cairo, the kidnapping of Christians has become increasingly common. The Associated Press reports more than 150 kidnappings in the southern province of Minya since the revolution. The kidnappers are primarily criminals seeking ransom, rather than religious radicals. They roam freely, according to minority advocates, because they have little fear they will be held accountable for crimes against the Christian minority.

Applications to leave the country are increasing among both Christians and Muslims. By some estimates, tens of thousands of Christians have fled post-revolution Egypt. Like the former textile maker, they have left due to concerns over rising Muslim conservatism and a general instability they say is emboldening attacks against them. “I don’t have what is needed to convince them not to travel abroad,” said Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak, Patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Catholics. “All I can do is to tell them we are here in our country, (and) we have a message. Yes, we have difficulties here, but there are difficulties outside too.”

However, Salah, a 35-year-old father of four, finds it hard to imagine a more difficult life than the one he already knows in Manshiyat Naser, the impoverished slum on the outskirts of Cairo where he lives among the city’s Christian garbage collectors. Salah said Muslim thugs attacked the area in March 2011 after Christians protested the burning of a church in another Cairo neighborhood a few days before. He recounted that military forces stood by as the attackers looted and torched Christian homes. “Houses burned, and families were destroyed and nine Christians were killed and I don’t know how many were wounded,” Salah said of the event, which local and international Human Rights groups documented at the time.

Afraid ever since, he has stopped collecting garbage outside the neighborhood, and tries to survive on what he can make selling coat hangers he produces from scrap plastic. A neighborhood church occasionally helps him with food. Salah said one of his relatives has applied “20 times” for permanent-resident status in the United States. He said he dreams of leaving too, but doubts it would be possible. He is illiterate, he said, and raising his four young children alone, after his wife died giving birth three years ago. “Many (Christians) want to leave,” Salah said, “but their possibilities are limited.”

“All Egyptians, by nature, are kind (but) circumstances are now making everything bad, so I am afraid of you and you are afraid of me. And because of the fear within you, you become bad,” Attiya, the shop clerk wisely observed. “We all hoped for the best, but no one knows now what will happen.”

Father, in the midst of the insecurity and instability, where Christians are subject to kidnapping and violence, we pray for Your presence and peace to settle on Your people, protecting them not only from violence but from fear, anger and retaliation. We consider the church leaders and pray for Your wisdom which you offer so graciously and lavishly to be granted them as they lead Your church. We hear of the need for food, employment and shelter and pray for you to provide for their temporal needs. As Christians rest in Your faithful provision, we pray that their efforts to reach out in mercy and with the truth of Your gospel to Muslim neighbors, and that in Your infinite mercy You would claim those lost in the darkness of Islam for Yourself. In the name of Jesus whose name, we pray, will be lifted high in the land of Egypt. Amen.

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