«It was very touching, seeing today Muslims with tears in their eyes… It was beautiful, to pray together, Copts and Muslims », says Sarah, medical doctor and follower of Coptic Orthodox Christianity. She took part in a mass celebrated on Sunday at 1PM in the middle of Tahrir Square in Cairo. Two days before in the same place, during Muslims’ Friday prayers, the Christians encircled Muslims to protect them”:http://twitpic.com/3w3lt8
On Tahrir Square “I felt myself very secure for the first time in my life, in the middle of the crowd of my fellow citizens”, explains Nawal Tawfik, anchorwoman of a Christian TV station Miracle. It was already her second protest at the Square. “It brings out something beautiful in people. And it was the first time also that I felt I was taking part in something real, that I was truly a part of the Egyptian nation”. And she adds: “We never could have dreamt that such a moment would come. I felt as if the Egyptian people were dead. I never thought somebody other than Gamal (son of Egyptian President) would take Hosni Mubarak’s place”.
She’s optimistic as for her country’s future after the Mubarak era: “I believe that the relations between Copts and Muslims can improve. You can see it here, the people are united, and that’s a good sign. It is unbelievable, to see Christians and Muslims pray together like this”.
«The flames of sectarian conflict were fanned by the ruling party. I do not think that the Egyptian people in themselves want sectarian division”, says Madga Boutros, a young activist who works for an NGO called EIPR (French abbreviation for Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
Sarah points out: “For many Copts, Mubarak symbolised some king of protection. But after a series of terrorist attacks these last years, like the one in Alexandria after mass on December the 31st, some of them have begun to understand that they were victims of the ruling regime’s oppression too, as well as Egyptian Muslims”.
This young Copt has been in Tahrir Square from the first day of the protests: “In the beginning, many Copts didn’t want to take part in demonstrations they thought were launched by the Muslim Brotherhood. But with time they realised the protest movement was much broader, that all political, religious and social currents took part in it. So they came here in droves”.
Magda Boutros also took to the streets on the January 25. She says she’s “disappointed” by the position of the Egyptian Coptic Church.
As she explains, “I didn’t expect Pope Shenouda to support revolution but he could have maintained neutrality instead of openly supporting Mubarak”. For Sarah, it is really clear cut: “The Pope should not talk politics”.
Copts, who represent around 10% of Egyptian population, have almost deserted the country’s political scene after the 1952 revolution. However, in recent years with tensions between Copts and Muslims on the rise, and the government seemingly unable to defuse them, they started to go onto the streets to protest against religious violence.
The big question now is whether the Muslim Brotherhood will take over after Mubarak’s departure. Those taking part in the protest movement are obviously ready for democracy with all the risks it implies, but some Copts are sceptical.
Magda Boutros seems not to be worried. For her, the “Coptic community is not in danger”. She explains: “it was the government who demonized the Muslim Brotherhood. In reality, I don’t think they are that bad, and I think many realize now it was the government’s strategy. Moreover, the protests were not organized by the Brotherhood. They were not hijacked by the Muslims, as the state TV claimed. Obviously, they are massively present in the Square, but they do not represent the majority at all. There are Copts, secular movements, Muslims who don’t support the Brotherhood…”
The Muslim Brotherhood at the helm in Egypt? “They’ve said already they won’t present a candidate at the next presidential election. Moreover, I really don’t think the majority of Egyptians would want Sharia law to be applied”.
Secular Muslims clarify that even if the Muslim Brotherhood will take power, the Constitution would have to be amended and they won’t be able to stay at the helm of the State without popular support.
Sarah hopes that in a democratic future Copts will take an active part in the country’s political life, « not necessarily in the form of a religious party, but in all the parties, as can do all the Egyptians”.
However, according to Nawal Tawfik, «the majority of Copts are afraid of the Muslim Brotherhood and therefore support Mubarak. All my friends, on Facebook, for example, have warned me against taking part in protests”. She adds: “Personally I’m not afraid of Muslim Brotherhood. I don’t think the majority of Egyptians would vote for them, and even if one day they will take the power, well, that’s our destiny. Maybe we have to pass through that stage, if only for people to change their minds afterwards. In the worst case, I could always leave the country. That’s what freedom is, too. For me freedom is more important than any protection afforded by Mubarak”.
A veiled young woman politely interrupts our conversation: “Could I take your photo with your friend? People say there’s only the Muslim Brotherhood here, and I want to prove them wrong!”
Moïna Fauchier Delavigne, Hussein Emara, Cairo