Can oppressed Christian minority find freedom, too?

By June 29, 2011

Egypt (MNN) — Muslim attacks on Coptic Christians in upper Egypt last have many wondering if the new regime will really give Egypt Christians a voice. Since "Arab Spring" began in December of 2010 with the topple of the Mubarak regime, the Muslim world has protested oppression in hopes for democracy. But is it democracy they hope for where all members of society are treated equally? Or a power shift?

Some Muslims do not find unity in governmental oppression enough to erase the hostility toward Christians. Compass Direct News reported that enraged Muslims burned down several Christian-owned homes, surrounded a church building and threatened to kill a priest last week in two unrelated incidents in Upper Egypt.

On Saturday June 25 in Awlad Khalaf village just south of Cairo, local Muslims attacked Coptic Christian Wahib Halim Atteyah, robbed him of just over $8,500, and bulldozed his home along with the other structures on his property, according to local media. Villagers had begun circulating a rumor that Atteyah was constructing a church building on his property, prompting the Muslim attack. The group then raided six other Coptic-owned homes and burned them to the ground. Atteyah and another Coptic Christian, Ihab Na'eem, were later arrested for allegedly repelling the attack with firearms; a charge Atteyah said was untrue. Two Muslims accused of setting houses on fire also have been arrested.

In a previous incident on Thursday June 2 in another village also south of Cairo, a group of Salafi Muslims surrounded the Church of St. George and demanded that the Reverend Gorgy Thabet leave the village or they would kill him and hold Muslim prayers in the church building. Security police kept the mob from breaking into the church building and then removed the priest from the village.

Yet despite the violence and antagonism, Christians in Egypt are hopeful that a new democracy will bring about positive change. Paul Estabrooks with Open Doors states, "The believers are saying that under the old regime, many times these people just got their hand spanked and were released. The Christians are now hoping that under the new regime…real justice will be served in these kind of situations where attacks are made on Christian communities."

There was even a protest in the streets with both Muslims and Christians alike demanding freedom. During the protest, Estabrooks says, "They had prayer times together including Muslim people, and they felt that they had, even in that demonstration area, more opportunities for openness than they'd ever had before."

But with Christians being a minority in Egypt–making up only 8 to 10 percent of the population in a new democratic regime, Muslims will be the ones in the majority dominating the scene. With such a future, will Christians really be given the justice and freedom to worship they so desire?

According to Estabrooks, "Our coworkers in Egypt are actually far more optimistic about the future than those of us on the outside looking in, perhaps, partially because they trust that minorities are going to be involved in any democratic constitution that'll be established and be protected. However, there doesn't seem to be a history of protection of minorities in new democracies."

This is backed up in a study done on democratic minorities by Dr. Timm Beichelt, a Professor at the European University Viadrina Frankfurt. Beichelt states, "It seemed that the phase of democratization could be entered into only in those states where the conflicts between majorities and minorities had been solved peacefully."

Apparently the conflicts between Muslim and Christian Egyptians have not yet been solved peacefully with such attacks still ongoing. Yet, the Egyptian Christians are hoping that what little unity they have found with Muslims in striving for freedom will continue once Muslims gain the power they want. Will it happen?

Estabrooks summarizes, "We need to pray that their optimism will be honored and that they will be able to have the freedom that they desire to share the Gospel."

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