Copts say Egypt regime change trumps Islamist fears
For Rafik, a member of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, the myth that President Hosni Mubarak is the community’s best defense against Islamist militants was shattered by an Alexandria church bombing on New Year’s Day. He and other Copts continued to demonstrate alongside at least 1 million Egyptians on Tuesday, saying their desire to end Mubarak’s three-decade rule was for now more pressing than any fears that a change of power might empower Islamist groups.
“After (the Alexandria) bombing the Copts for the first time started to demonstrate against Mubarak. He was telling us that ‘When I’m in power, you’re safe.’ Well, obviously, when he’s in power, we’re not safe,” the 33-year-old dentist said as he stood amid thousands of protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Mubarak, whose government battled a violent Islamist insurgency in the 1990s, has sold himself to Western allies as their safest bet against militancy. The 82-year-old leader has sought to portray himself as defender of Egypt’s Copts, some 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people. Critics say that has included co-opting the centuries-old church to lend legitimacy to his rule.
Images of mingling crosses and crescents which appeared after the Alexandria bombing that killed 23 people have been common sights in Tahrir Square through the protests.
“We came here to show that every Egyptian should be here and wants to be here. There is no difference between Christians and Muslims,” said Mina Shehata, a Christian from Nagaa Hamady, the site of a drive-by shooting that killed six Copts in early 2010.