Unrest persists in the streets of Cairo. Protesters have turned out en masse, seeking to topple a totalitarian regime in the name of democracy and freedom. But it's possible that some - if not many - of those fighting for freedom in the streets of Cairo today may wield an iron hand of oppression tomorrow.
"The situation in Egypt is extremely disturbing," says Faith McDonnell, Director of Religious Liberty Programs at the Institute for Religion and Democracy in Washington DC, "At this point, we don't know what the outcome will be, but various scenarios are extremely bad for the Copts and other Christians of Egypt."
Fears for the Future
The "various scenarios" she speaks of involve the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization considered extremist by some, and whose participation in the protests has been central. As the government of unpopular President Hosni Mubarak seems ripe for a transition, the opposition's top choice, Mohamed ElBaradei, is one backed by the Muslim group. In an article in the Wall Street Journal, Ziad el-Alami, a senior aide for ElBaradei and a human rights attorney, expressed reservations about the group's participation in a transitional government. "I have some fears about the Muslim Brotherhood and their [future] intentions," he said, "But the situation is bigger than all of us now. You need them in the streets."
Indeed, the desire for freedom and democracy seems to be dominant in the minds of Egyptians from all walks of life. That's why some people feel that the fears revolving around the Muslim Brotherhood need to take a back seat to the more important drive for democratic government.
"I am 60 years old and retired," Hanafy Mohammad Abdel Salam told Time, while proclaiming his support for the democracy protestors. "I have lived 60 years without freedom, and my children, they have smelled only a whiff of freedom."
Many ordinary citizens like Salam have joined the throng of protestors, which include extremists from the Muslim Brotherhood. On Tuesday, more than 200,000 people managed to reach Cairo's Tahrir Square despite the shutdown of most public transportation, according to the Los Angeles Times. For millions of Egyptians, the possibility of freedom seems to override any other concerns.
Coptic Christians Look Ahead
At the minimum, the Muslim Brotherhood appears to be positioning itself to play a greater role in Egyptian politics in the years to come. Time will tell the future of the new, emerging Egypt. In the meantime, apprehension for Egypt's Coptic Christian community remains imminent.
Dr. Patrick Sookhdeo is the International Director of Barnabas Aid, an organization that seeks to aid persecuted believers around the world. He says that Christians everywhere need to pray that "as Egyptian citizens seek freedom from an autocratic leader, they will not fall into the hands of a strict Islamic regime that will only further oppress its people, especially Christians."
Faith McDonnell echoes a similar sentiment. "I have great concern about the rise of Muslim Brotherhood and ElBaradei, who appears to be the favorite of the Muslim Brotherhood," she says, "This would be a terrible situation for the Christians of Egypt, who are already experiencing great persecution. Persecution would become legitimized under a Shari'a-led regime, rather than just incidental."
Certainly Christians in Egypt have experienced maltreatment during the past several decades, and Islamic extremism is playing a significant role in this persecution. On New Year's Day this year, 21 Christians were killed and numerous others wounded when a bomb exploded just outside a church in Alexandria. The blast killed member after member as they exited the church following mass. In addition to attacks on churches, Muslim converts to Christianity have been arrested and attacked, or forced to go into hiding.
As Christians comprise only a small minority of Egypt's population, their circumstances are not likely to improve anytime soon. Pew Research Group released a study at the end of last year, revealing that 95 percent of Egyptians polled thought that it was good for Islam to play a large role in politics. The study concluded by stating that "[a]t least three-quarters of Muslims in Egypt and Pakistan say they would favor making each of the following the law in their countries: stoning people who commit adultery, whippings and cutting off of hands for crimes like theft and robbery and the death penalty for those who leave the Muslim religion."
On a grim note, it seems remarkably possible that the protests for freedom in Egypt might only create a vacuum that could be quickly filled by leadership from the Muslim Brotherhood. They are, after all, Egypt's most well organized - and most popular - non-State political force. Leadership from the Muslim Brotherhood would almost certainly usher in an era of greater adherence to Muslim law, which might in turn lead to increased persecution of Christians.
Barnabas Aid, along with many human rights organizations, supports the growth of democracy in countries around the world, and Egypt is no exception. Barnabas Aid suggests that Christians pray "that stability will soon be restored in Egypt and that the outcome of the current crisis will bring greater fairness, freedom and peace for every Egyptian citizen." The group wants to ensure protection for Egypt's suffering Christian community, regardless of the outcome of the protests, insisting that true liberty must encompass freedom of religion. They urge prayer that the "Egyptian Christians will know the Lord's protection, presence, peace and provision during this tumultuous time."
Prayer is vital, agrees Faith McDonnell, adding, "We should also support those great Christian ministries and human rights organizations that are helping Egyptian Christians."
There are many organizations working to promote the rights of persecuted Christians in Egypt, as well as to supply the needs of those who are impoverished or treated unjustly. These organizations could use our support at this crucial period in time.
Coptic Assembly of America
This article published on February 1, 2011.
Kristin Butler has visited with Christian communities throughout the Middle East and Asia. She is a contributing writer at Crosswalk.com, where she covers topics related to religious freedom, human rights, and philanthropy. For further articles, visit her website at kristinbutler.net or email [email protected].