Analysis: Egypt’s Copts see power vacuum allowing oppression

October 10, 2011

(People watch as vehicles burned in the distance during a protest in Cairo October 9, 2011/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Violent clashes in Cairo that killed at least 25 people have fueled Coptic Christian fears that the Egyptian state that used to shield religious minorities from radical Islamists can now no longer do so. The clashes, in which Christians say they were fired on and charged down by armored vehicles, highlighted an irony of the Arab Spring that the region’s dictatorships may have been better guardians of minorities than budding democracies.

That bitter realization first hit Christian minorities in Iraq, where the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 ended their privileged status and led to a wave of Islamist attacks that triggered a mass exodus of Christians from the country. Many frightened Christians in Syria support embattled President Bashar al-Assad out of fear that toppling his secularist regime would lead to similar pressure there from the Islamists Assad’s minority Alawite regime has combated.

Although Egypt’s Copts have complained of attacks from Salafist and other strict Islamist groups since President Hosni Mubarak was chased from power in February, Christians say the deeper problem is the collapse of the state.

“The real problem is not mainly the Salafists or the fundamentalist Islamists … we know they are attacking Copts and churches all the time,” said Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of a Orthodox Coptic newspaper al-Watani. “The problem is the severe reluctance of the cabinet and the authorities to enforce the rule of law and protect the Copts.”

Rev. Samir Khalil Samir, an Egyptian Catholic priest who heads the Center for Arab Christian Documentation and Research in Beirut, said: “The Christians are demanding the protection of the state, but the state hardly exists … The army has no solution and the Christians no longer have any patience.”

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See alsoEgypt’s Christians vent fury at army after clash

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