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24 November 2011

Religious liberty - Egypt

Religious liberty - Egypt

Egypt will go to the polls on 28 November for the first election since Hosni Mubarak left power in February. During the revolution in January Yousef Sidhoum, editor of the Coptic Newspaper al-Watani, described how "Muslims and Christians were bound by the same challenges and aspirations". Now, after months of interim rule by military council, some Christians in Egypt are concerned that an "elected Muslim majority is likely to prove far less tolerant than a military dictatorship".

Early in October, Egypt saw the worst sectarian violence in decades. Coptic Christians, marched through Masparo in Cairo in protest to the burning of a Coptic church. The protesters claimed their demonstration began as a peaceful protest but came under attack. They were assaulted by attackers throwing rocks, before clashes with security forces broke out. The BBC reported this followed a pattern of sectarian violence in Egypt. Thousands joined in the violence on the street where smoke from tear gas and burning vehicles filled the air. Twenty-four people lost their lives and over 200 people were wounded before a curfew was put in place.

To mark the end of 40 days of mourning for those who died, Coptic Christians marched through Cairo on 17 November. However, the march again was attacked, resulting in further clashes and ten more injured people. Sheif Doss, the head of the Egyptian Coptic Association, said: "We were marching peacefully with candles to commemorate the 26 martyrs of Maspero…..some residents started throwing rocks and glass bottles from the rooftops of buildings at the crowds."

Alliance member Christian Solidarity Worldwide is encouraging people to 'stand in solidarity with Egyptian Christians' in their No Way Out campaign. The campaign is asking people to support Egyptian Christians who are highly vulnerable and have been living under threat of discrimination, harassment and violence for decades. To sign the No Way Out petition click here.

Amid the rise of anti-Christian violence in Egypt, Christians across the Middle East and Arab world united in prayer for Egypt in early November. This 12-hour night of prayer was broadcasted live from the Cave Church in Cairo by SAT-7 where Christian leaders spoke about the need for peaceful relations in society, and for prayer ahead of the upcoming parliamentary elections.

Prayer for Egypt is essential as they move through this transitional time. Yousef Sidhoum told the BBC: "I believe the situation of Copts has worsened since the revolution." He referenced the revival of political Islam, and the eruption of violence towards Christians by the emerging Salafist Islamic groups. Christians are worried these groups may gain power in the upcoming election. But Yousef says that Coptic Christians must "strive to be an integral part of the current transitional process by stepping into the public arena" and says that together with moderate Muslims they can "support the idea of a civil state for Egypt and keep fundamentalists at bay".

This week has seen the eruption of violence again in Egypt, between protestors and the armed forces. Many Christians feel that the interim military rule has put them in more danger. Egypt's military rulers this week were condemned by Amnesty International who said that they "have completely failed to live up to their promises to Egyptians to improve human rights and have instead been responsible for a catalogue of abuses which in some cases exceeds the record of Hosni Mubarak".

On 22 November, after a day of crisis talks, an estimated 100,000 protesters in Tahrir Square, days of violent protests and the death of at least 35 protesters, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the leader of Egypt's ruling military council, pledged that the army would expedite the country's transition to civilian rule and that the first of 12 parliamentary votes would still go ahead on Monday.

Please continue to pray for Egypt, the upcoming election, those caught up in violence and for Egypt's religious minorities at a time of increased attacks against them.