The massive riots that broke out in Cairo, Egypt on Sunday following a Coptic Christian protest against a church attack last week has seen at least 26 killed and more than 200 injured. The escalating nature of oppression against the Christian community in Egypt has raised concerns about the future of Christianity in the troubled country.
Egypt’s Christians make up approximately 10 percent of the country’s population, and is the largest Christian community in the north-Africa region.
Many of the Christians in the country were part of the demonstrations and protests that ousted former leader Hosni Mubarak. They joined the anti-Mubarak protests in the hope that a true democratic Egypt could emerge; one that would protect the religious freedoms of minority groups.
However, the result of Mubarak’s ousting on the political make-up of the country, and the implications that has for Coptic Christians remain uncertain.
The Egyptian military established power following Mubarak’s ousting and fears have been increasing for months that strong Islamists are gaining control of the country and that the military will ultimately avoid free and fair elections. Commentators are saying this would likely result in the turnover of power to Islamic groups rather than the true democratic government called for during Mubarak’s downfall.
Sporadic attacks and petty discrimination have been imposed on the Christian community in Egypt for centuries. However, over recent years there has been a steady rise of Islamists in the country, and with it increased attacks and suppression of the Coptic Church. Many analysts are saying that the current situation for Christians in the country make it a more uncertain time than they’ve experienced for centuries.
William Dalrympie of The Guardian compared Sunday’s violence and the growing threat to the Egyptian Coptic minority to the plight of Christians under Saddam Hussein in Iraq. He said that a growing fear is that the Arab spring will lead to a “Christian winter” where Christians will be forced to leave the Middle East for their safety.
However, Egypt’s Prime Minister Essam Sharaf dismissed the idea that yesterday’s violence was sectarian. Sharaf told state television that the violence witnessed was not “sectarian tension” but rather “an escalating plan for the fall and fragmentation of the state.”
Sharaf took to his Facebook page to say that, “The only beneficiary of these events and acts of violence are the enemies of the January revolution and the enemies of the Egyptian people, both Muslim and Christian.”
However, Sharaf’s claims will do little to calm Christians in the country, who are facing attacks with increasing regularity and ferocity.
The future of their rights will remain in limbo until it is established who and what type of governing party will run Egypt.
A Christian demonstrator at yesterday’s protest told the New York Times, “Until when are we going to live in this terror? This is not the issue of Muslim and Christian, this is the issue of freedom that we demanded and can’t find.”