The cross and the Koran were brandished side by side in Tahrir Square last February, before the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s fall. His regime had fed a kind of new inter-religious solidarity.
Michael Mounir, Head of the American Coptic Association, said: “The Church was subject to an unchanging regime for 30 years, which always used a carrot and stick approach with the Church. If we protested about something, we got problems. The government would tighten the limits it imposed.”
Egypt’s Coptic Christians are a minority in a majority Sunni Muslem country, making up 10 percent of the population. So there are some eight to 10 million Copts. Their communities have been in Egypt since the beginning of Christianity, since before Islam. Now they feel pushed aside. The regime change has not eased their fears.
One Tahrir Square demonstrator said: “We are all afraid that the Muslim Brotherhood will come to power, or that fundamentalist Islamists will gain influence in the new Egypt.”
Yet other Copts sound more optimistic, confident in the future for Christians in a multiconfessional Egypt. Coptic priest Father Karas said: “No one can make problems for Christians, such as [over the] building of churches or changing ideas about religion.”
Then early in March, Copts protested in Cairo’s streets against the burning of a church outside the capital. In clashes with Muslims, 13 people were killed.
Last year, the authorities ordered a halt to the building of a new Coptic church in Gizeh, and riots broke out. It was said the permission had been granted to build a social centre but not a church. The Copts felt this as discrimination against them.
This year began with violence against the Copts. After a New Year’s Day mass in Alexandria, a suicide bomber took 21 lives and wounded 79 people, most of them Christians.