Copts in Egypt are worried
Among the biggest losers from the current Arab political upheavals are the Christian minorities of the Middle East. Long before the Arab Spring, Iraq’s historic Christian community had shrunk dramatically, as tens of thousands fled threats and bomb attacks by Islamist militias. The flood of refugees pouring out of Syria includes many of that country’s Christian minority, who fear a radical Islamist takeover if President Bashar al-Assad falls.
Meantime, most of Egypt’s Coptic Christians, who make up 10 percent of the population, are deeply worried by the election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi as president. "There is a feeling that democracy has been a disaster for us,” says Samia Sidhom, managing editor of Watani, a newspaper that serves the Coptic community. (The Coptic church dates back 19 centuries and is based on the teachings of St. Mark, who took Christianity to Egypt.)
What Morsi does, or doesn’t do, to reassure Copts will reveal whether Christians can enjoy equal rights in an Islamist-led Egypt — and will hint at their likely fate in Syria as well.
"At the beginning, Copts had a lot of hopes (in the revolution),” Sidhom told me during my recent visit to Egypt. We sat in her cramped office, which was filled with old computers and worn furniture and was not far from Tahrir Square, as she worked on the next issue of the weekly.
There were simmering tensions between radical Muslims and the Coptic community under the Mubarak regime, including attacks on the Copts’ places of worship. To open new churches, Copts were required to get presidential permission, which was rarely forthcoming, forcing them to worship in "unlicensed,” and thus vulnerable, structures. (...)