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Egyptian Christians content Morsi is gone

Many Christians say they were discriminated against during Morsi's rule.

An Egyptian man, supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi kisses a poster of him as worshipers gather for prayer outside Cairo's Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque on 11 July, 2013. Picture:AFP

CAIRO - The evening Egypt's army ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi, Christian lawyer Peter Naggar celebrated on Tahrir Square with even greater joy than when autocrat Hosni Mubarak fell from power two years ago.

Naggar remains deeply relieved that a year of Islamist rule ended a fortnight ago and yet, as the initial excitement fades, many members of his ancient Christian minority fear Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood will not give up power so easily.

Neither is the Coptic Christian community under any illusion that the army's installation of an interim government devoid of Islamists spells the end to its long-standing grievances, such as difficulties in getting state jobs, equality before the law and securing permits to build churches.

Still, Naggar is happy to see the back of the Brotherhood. "This is the real Egyptian revolution," said Naggar, who had joined mass protests in Cairo on June 30 demanding that Morsi go. "The people stood up against Islamism. This is the end of political Islamism."

Communal tensions and attacks on Christians and churches rose sharply under Morsi, Egypt's first freely-elected president. Many Copts, who make up about a tenth of Egypt's 84 million people, left the country where their ancestors settled in the earliest years of Christianity - several centuries before the arrival of Islam.

Islamists are staging a vigil at a Cairo mosque and regular protests to demand Mursi's reinstatement, and it is dawning on Christians that they could yet return to power when elections are held under a military plan to restore democracy.

Some might even resort to force, they fear. Islamists have killed at least five Copts since Morsi's overthrow, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, a rights group.

"It's an improvement that Morsi is gone but I am still not entirely relaxed," said Roman Gouda, visiting with a friend the Egypt's biggest Cathedral in the Cairo district of Abbasiya.

Security is tight at the cathedral, which houses the Pope's seat, theological institutes, tailors for religious vestments and a nuns' home. Only one gate is open for the public, manned by security guards and policemen.

During Morsi's presidency, Pope Tawadros said he felt Christians were sidelined, ignored and neglected by the Brotherhood-led authorities.

GRUMBLES

Copts are happy that the new interim cabinet, which will rule until elections are held, contains three Christians. Morsi's cabinet had just one Christian in the post of minister for scientific research.

Many Christians, like Muslim Egyptians, hated the brutality and corruption of the Mubarak era, but say they felt safer under the man who jailed Islamists during his 30 years in power.

Christian leaders acknowledge that some of the community's problems such as access to state jobs also affect Muslims in a country known for corruption and a weak legal system.

The biggest threat was that liberals and moderate Muslims will fail again to overcome their divisions. This could hand another electoral victory to Islamist groups which have won every vote since Mubarak's overthrow and remain better organised than their opponents.

Moderate Copts fear a radicalisation of their own youth who believe some Muslim hardliners want to get rid of Christianity, who feel discriminated against and tortured," said Michael Georges, another late-night cathedral visitor. "I don't see any change." he said.

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