- (Reuters/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, called Wednesday for national unity and an end to persecution in Egypt on the first anniversary of the revolution that brought more democracy to the nation but also increased violence against Christians.
Wednesday marked one year since Egyptians rose up Jan. 25, 2011, in revolution. Over 800 deaths later, Egypt has a new, democratically-elected, an mostly Islamic government and is starting to make its way towards putting the country's economy back on track.
The bishop offered prayers for the victims who died during pro-democracy protests in Tahrir Square and elsewhere in Egypt, evoking also Coptic Christians who died in separate incidents after the toppling of Egypt's president of nearly 30 years, Hosni Mubarak. Next to some follow-up protests against military rule, the country saw a different kind of fresh violence in the aftermath of the revolution - violence against the Coptic community, one of Egypt's oldest religious groups.
In a statement to mark the anniversary of the revolution's beginning, Bishop Angaelos offered his prayers for those who have lost their lives or suffered as a result of the social and political upheaval in the last year. The bishop also evoked a certain level of brotherhood between Christians and Muslim.
"In January of 2011 the whole world looked on with amazement at the energy, faithfulness and strength of the Egyptian people that was poured out in Tahrir Square, and Egyptians themselves looked upon the Square with pride as a visible manifestation of what could be accomplished as they stood together for a common cause," Angaelos said in a statement.
"It was moving to see Egyptians, Christians and Muslims alike, standing side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder, reclaiming their national identity and resurrecting a spirit of hope for the present and the future," he continued.
Echoing concerns of many Christian observers, Angaelos said that the revolution brought, at least in the short term, "greater social divisions and subsequently given rise to increased attacks on minorities, mainly Christians."
"We therefore offer our prayers for all those who have suffered at this time as a result of these challenges, as well as those affected by an ailing economy, increasing unemployment and general breakdown in law and order," the bishop stated. He called for alertness to the rights of religious minorities in an appeal emphasizing the need for unity.
"Through this expected transitional instability, we are not segregating ourselves and looking purely at our own interests as Christians," he said. "We do not fear for Christians or Christianity in Egypt where it has been for two thousand years; Egypt is and will continue to be a place in which Christians witness their Faith on a day-to-day basis. We do however fear for Egypt, because it is Egypt that will weaken if all Egyptians do not stand and work together at this time."
Copts, otherwise known as the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, are the largest group of Christians in the Middle East existing almost for the past 2,000 years. The Coptic Church is based on the teachings of Saint Mark, who is credited with bringing Christianity to Egypt during the reign of the Roman emperor Nero in the first century.
On May 8, Egyptians gathered next to a building that belonged to Christians and set it on fire during clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo, as reported by ABC. The violence reportedly killed 12 and injured more than 200.
Then, on Oct. 9, Christians and secular activists alike gathered in Cairo to protest the burning of a Coptic Church in Southern Aswan, which took place on Sept. 30. The protests proved to be one of the most violent clashes between military and civilians since the Arab Spring uprisings began, according to reports. Soldiers allegedly brutalized the protesters, killing 27, driving tanks into crowds and, as some reports claim, firing live ammunition into crowds. About 300 people were also reportedly injured during the melee.
Some observers, such as the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), are very pessimistic about the prospects for religious minorities in the country which just elected two Islamist political parties into government, in an election process the U.S. Copts Association calls a "sham."
USCIRF's chair Leonard Leo said recently that he sees the eradication of Christianity in the region as a plausible possibility.
"With what's going on in Egypt, with the uncertainties that exist, there's very little incentive for a young Coptic Christian to stay in the county," Leo told CNSNews. "It wouldn't surprise me in the least if you saw the same basic trajectory in Egypt that you see in quite a number of other countries which is to say they just get up and they leave."
"As we reflect upon this last year, we pray for those who have lost their lives, especially in Tahrir and Maspero," the Coptic bishop said Wednesday. "We also pray that God grants wisdom to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the newly-formed parliament, the cabinet and the religious leadership, that they may all work together for the well-being of the nation and its people. We pray especially that the coming days, weeks and months pass without further needless bloodshed."