One year ago, a revolution swept Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak from power. Supporters hoped for a new era of freedom in the land of the pharaohs.
But today, many Egyptians believe their revolution is stalled. Some even fear it’s been hijacked by Islamists.
That’s a frightening prospect for Egypt’s persecuted Christians, who are praying for a peaceful future but see difficult times ahead.
The eastern Cairo neighborhood of Mokattam is home to many Coptic Christians. It’s a place where poverty abounds – so much so that the area is called “garbage city.”
The Christians who live there are called “zebaleen” or “garbage people.”
They live amidst the city’s refuse, sifting through trash and sorting it just to earn a few Egyptian pounds.
The Christians there tell visitors about a famous legend from more than a thousand years ago. Caliph Al-Mu’izz knew that Jesus talked about having the faith of a mustard seed.
The caliph challenged Christians to move Cairo’s Mokattam Mountain. They prayed for three days and miraculously the mountain moved.
Today, it may take another miracle to shield them from more attacks. Last March, thousands of irate Muslims assaulted Christian protestors in Mokattam. At least 10 Christians were killed and nearly 100 were injured.
The Mokattam tragedy was followed by more attacks, including themassacre of Christians last October by the Egyptian army at Cairo’s Maspero Square.
Miled Daniel’s 25-year-old brother Mina was among Christians struck by fatal gunshots.
“Mina wasn’t happy with the government. He saw the corruption of the government and he was upset and wanted to do something about it,” Daniel recalled.
Daniel believes government security agents may have targeted the young Christian revolutionary for death because he wrote Internet blogs critical of the government.
He also advocated Christian-Muslim unity.
“Mina loved everybody equally,” Daniel said. “He didn’t differentiate between Muslims and Christians.”
“The Christians in the Middle East and in Egypt in general are now facing one of the most dangerous stages in their history,” author and Mideast expert Walid Phares added.
Phares wrote the book *The Coming Revolution* and also advises Congress on the Middle East.
“This is very dark for the Copts of Egypt,” he told CBN News.
The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists now dominate the lower house of parliament. Later this year, they’ll likely control the writing of a new constitution that could include elements of Sharia Islamic law.
Coptic Christian activist Father Philopateer Gameel suggests Islamists want to deny Christians their rights as Egyptian citizens.
“They are trying to make us second class citizens,” he explained. “We hear a lot of accusations that Coptic Christians are not Egyptians.”
But Coptics lived and practiced their Christians faith in Egypt some 600 years before Islam.
Arabs Muslims invaded Egypt in 640 A.D., forcing many Coptic Christians to convert or be killed. Waves of persecution and martyrdom have come against them ever since.
Wrong Foreign Policy?
For years, the United States pressed the Egyptian Army to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists. Phares said all of that has now changed.
“The advising body on the administration is telling the army not to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and to actually find a deal, to cut a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said.
“So we have a huge role in subduing the army,” he added. “That wasn’t the case anytime before, under any administration.”
Current U.S. policy could lead to even more attacks against the Coptic Christians.
“The price of the military to have an alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood in the future is for them to pressure the Copts and the Christians, and to shrink them,” Phares said.
Like Iraqi Christians who fled persecution, Egyptian Christians may undergo a mass exodus from their country.
Phares suggests it’s time the United States reverse a disastrous foreign policy course in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
“We need to partner with Muslim civil societies that basically see eye-to-eye with us, with the democracy forces within those societies that actually were at the onset of the Arab Spring,” Phares explained.
“We abandoned them. These are the dissidents,” he continued. “We need to go back and partner with them, empower them, and create a sort of equilibrium between the seculars and the Islamists.”
That may be difficult, at least for now in Egypt as19 Americans, including the son of the U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood, are facing trial in Egypt on charges of illegally funding pro-democracy groups.
In the meantime, at the foot of Mokattam Mountain, the zebaleen faithfully pray for divine intervention.