ALEXANDRIA, Egypt—Like the protesters who have flooded the streets of Egypt in the past week, the country's large minority of Coptic Christians worry about joblessness and lack of freedoms. But most want President Hosni Mubarak to stay in power [This isn't simply a case of "the devil you know..."].
Fear of what may follow the removal of Mr. Mubarak, a secular strongman who has ruled the country for the past 30 years, is making reluctant supporters out of the country's Christians, an estimated 10% of Egypt's 80 million population. Mr. Mubarak has been aggressive in pursuing perceived Islamist extremist groups, a policy that has endeared him to Coptic Christians, not to mention the U.S. [this has received very little attention in the press.]
Many Copts worry that Mr. Mubarak's exit would leave them dangerously exposed—either by chaos, or to a government that may be more tolerant of Islamist extremists [I fear the same, and this morning it is beginning to look more likely].
Pope Shenouda III, head of the Coptic Church, expressed support for Mr. Mubarak in an interview with Egyptian state television Monday. "We have called the president and told him we are all with you and the people are with you," he said, according to a transcript of the interview on the state television's website.
In Alexandria, where the Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in A.D. 42, worshippers slipped through a crack in the gate at St. Mark's and St. Peter's Church on Monday morning, for the first service to be held here since Egypt's anti-Mubarak protests began.
As recently as New Year's Day, this church suffered a horrific terrorist attack. Twenty-three people died and 97 were injured when a large bomb packed with nails and ball bearings detonated outside just after midnight, as the service was ending.
"We need Mubarak. What we need above all is to be safe," said Samy Farag, director of the St. Mark's Hospital, which is attached to the church and where the dead and injured were brought immediately after the bombing.
"We feel safer with him because he heads a big, strong party. If he leaves, parties will come to power that we don't know," said the 65-year-old doctor. He added that this included any government that might be headed by Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize winner and former international nuclear official.
"We just don't know what their policies toward Christians would be," Dr. Farag said.
The Jan. 1 attack was the latest in an escalating cycle of extremist violence against Christians in the broader Middle East.
A year earlier, a gunman killed seven Christians in Nag Hammadi, Upper Egypt, as they left church, triggering days of sectarian violence in the streets there. In October, al Qaeda in Iraq claimed responsibility for an attack on a Christian central Baghdad church. The same group also issued a threat to Christians in Egypt.
It isn't certain who was responsible for Alexandria's Jan. 1 attack. Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, an influential banned Islamist political party, condemned it as contrary to Islam.
"There were many Muslims who came here to give blood after the explosion," said Dr. Farag.
But in the aftermath of the killings, angry Copts clashed in the streets with Muslims and then with riot police, sending a new stream of patients into Dr. Farag's hospital wards, adorned with Christian icon paintings and posters. "The people who did this are trying to turn [Christians and Muslims] against each other," he said.
On Monday, the worshippers milled about just inside the cracked gates of the church, hidden from the street. They worried that when the police disappeared from the streets on Saturday, the police guards in front of the church also disappeared.
The protests across Egypt are nonsectarian, focusing on issues of freedoms, democratic rights and employment. These are problems Egypt's Christians face too, said another doctor at the hospital, Viviane Ghaly. "People are angry, mainly because of unemployment, and they have a right to be angry and to protest about it," said the 26-year-old, who is training for an equivalency test so that she can emigrate—a path than a growing number of Copts are taking.
"We complain about his government too, but we got used to Mubarak and his ways," Dr. Ghaly said. "We don't know what would come next."
02 February 2011
Coptic Christians feel safer under Mubarek
From the Wall Street Journal, with my emphases and comments: