Tens of thousands of Egyptian Christians are leaving the country following the revolution and Islamist political takeover, priests and community leaders say. Coptic Christian churches in the United States say they are having to expand to cope with new arrivals, as priests in cities such as Cairo and Alexandria talk of a new climate of fear and uncertainty.
“Most of our people are afraid,” Father Mina Adel, a priest at the Church of Two Saints in Alexandria said. “Not a few are leaving – for America, Canada and Australia. Dozens of families from this church alone are trying to go too.”
Father Mina’s church has an important place in the history of the Arab Spring. It was struck by a car bomb on New Year’s Eve 2010 in Egypt’s worst sectarian attack in recent decades. Twenty-three people were killed.
After the bombing, liberal Muslims protested in support of Christians, printing posters showing the cross and the crescent interlinked. This became a symbol of unity during the Tahrir Square protests three weeks later. But the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in parliamentary and presidential elections has changed the mood – particularly as the biggest opposition party is the even more hardline Sala-fist movement, which wants strict Islamic law implemented. “Salafis meet Christian girls in the street and order them to cover their hair,”
Father Mina said. “Sometimes they hit them when they refuse.”
President Mohammed Morsi has promised to respect Christians’ rights, and issued a New Year message insisting Egypt was “one homeland for all.” But several Brotherhood leaders and clerics issued thinly veiled threats against Christians during protests in late-2012, accusing them of being part of a plot to overthrow the government. The biggest change in attitudes has come since the passing of a new constitution giving Islamic law more prominence.
One estimate put the number of Coptic emigrants in 2011 at 100,000 . For most Christians, estimated to number between six and eight million of Egypt’s 85-million population, flight is not an option, and many say the fear of Islamist takeover is worse than the reality so far.
Richard Spencer, London Daily Telegraph