The surge of popular unity that toppled Hosni Mubarak last week has eased tension between Egypt’s Muslims and the Coptic Christian minority and raised hopes for lasting harmony. Muslims and Christians joined hands and formed human shields to protect each other from riot police as members of the different faiths prayed during the protests in Cairo.
Alongside banners demanding Mubarak’s resignation and an end to emergency rule, protesters held aloft posters of the Christian cross and Islamic crescent together against the red white and black of Egypt’s flag.
“Egypt has been victorious over what they called sectarian strife,” respected Muslim preacher Sheikh Youssef al-Qaradawi told millions gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir (Liberation) Square on Friday. “Here in Tahrir, the Christian and Muslim stood side by side,” he said. “This cursed strife is no more.”
Some of Egypt’s Copts, who make up a tenth of Egypt’s 79 million population, say it will take more than effusive displays of interfaith unity to heal the wounds of the past. “I am still afraid of what will happen in the future,” said Marie, a tourism worker in her late 20s. “More guarantees are needed that Copts will live freely and be treated fairly.”