Many Egyptian Coptic Christians were dismayed by the election victory of president-elect Mohamed Morsi, but they are now preparing to co-exist with the Islamist while also safeguarding their rights.
Copts, who account for roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s 82 million people, voted heavily for Morsi’s rival, Ahmed Shafiq, a former Hosni Mubarak premier, in the June 16-17 election run off, considering him a bulwark against Islamist control.
“I broke down when I heard the results. It was not expected, we imagined that after the revolution Egypt would be a civil state, not controlled by one political movement,” said a Coptic youth, Wassim William.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood – from which he resigned after his victory — dominated the parliament which the ruling military disbanded this month after a court order.
William, a 23-year-old who runs a photocopy store in Cairo’s heavily Coptic Shubra neighbourhood, said he was convinced that the “Brotherhood will renew their control of parliament if new elections are held.”
“There is a lot of fear among Copts,” he said. “We did not have our rights under Mubarak, so what about under the Brotherhood?”
He expects the problems faced by the region’s largest Christian minority to multiply, especially restrictions on building new churches and discrimination barring Copts from top state positions.
Nagib Gibrail, a Coptic rights activist and lawyer, called on Morsi to respond to the minority’s demand if they were to cooperate with him.
“The cooperation of Copts with the president-elect hinges on their demands for citizenship that is achieved on the ground,” he said in a statement on Sunday, after Morsi was announced the election’s winner.
He stressed the need for a law that would would allow Christians to build churches as easily as Muslims build mosques, and the appointment of a Coptic vice president and Coptic ministers, as Morsi has pledged.
Despite the anxiety in the community, a number of Copts expressed determination to defend their rights, viewing the democratic changes since an uprising ousted Mubarak early last year as a positive force.
Salwa, a 47-year-old housewife and church volunteer in Cairo, said: “My daughter is fearful and is considering emigration. She is pessimistic about the future. But I console her all the time.”
“We are not a minority,” she said. “We are partners in this nation, and this is our country. The age of silence is over.”
“We came out in a revolution and said what we wanted, and raised our voice. If anything happens we will go out to defend our rights,” she adds.
“What more can happen to us?” she asked. “For years we have faced discrimination and fanaticism.”
The Coptic writer Samir Morcos said that he was not worried, unlike his wife. “I reassure her. There won’t be anything new, in my opinion,” he said.
“Egyptians will co-exist,” he added. “The political scene has changed after the revolution and the security’s control has been disassembled, and there no longer is a ruling party, so the doors are open to Copts to participate politically.”
He said Copts had to enter politics to ensure they did not live in a religious state.
The minority, regularly the target of sectarian attacks under Mubarak, including a suicide bombing in January 2011 that killed more than 20 church goers, has seen a spike in attacks since the strongman’s overthrow.