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Alexandria's Minorities Aim To Reassert Themselves

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Alexandria's Minorities Aim To Reassert Themselves

Alexandria's Minorities Aim To Reassert Themselves

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

And we begin this hour in Egypt. The fall of the Mubarak regime will long evoke images of protesters in Tahrir Square, but there were, of course, demonstrations across Egypt. And we're going to focus now on Alexandria. Protests there, as well as the protesters themselves, were different from those in Cairo.

For 2,000 years, the port city at the mouth of the Nile was a center for intellectual life and a multicultural haven, but in the last century, tolerance waned for minority groups, including Christians and Nubians, as well as dissidents from the Muslim Brotherhood.

As NPR's Corey Flintoff reports, political change in Egypt could bring changes, good or bad, for these same groups.

COREY FLINTOFF: Human rights lawyer Alaa Setyan has spent much of his career defending minority members and dissidents in police brutality cases.

ALAA SETYAN: (Through Translator) I fear for the rights of all people, like the Muslim Brotherhood and Christians. I fear they might be treated unfairly. I believe we are all the same people, and everyone should have his right, whatever his way of thinking is, whatever his religion.

FLINTOFF: Historian Mohamed Awad notes that Alexander the Great founded this city as a multicultural meeting place, a tradition that carried on through the Roman and Islamic periods.

It was only after the military took power under Nasser in the 1950s that foreign communities were forced out.

Alexandria's Jewish and Greek communities - groups that had been part of Alexandrian life for centuries - gradually dwindled.

MOHAMED AWAD: We don't still have a multicultural society today, in Alexandria. We don't witness this multiculturalism that was very specific to Alexandrian society.

FLINTOFF: Haggag Hassan Oddoul is a writer born in Alexandria but a member of the Nubian community: dark-skinned Egyptians who were displaced from their homeland in Upper Egypt by the building of the High Dam at Aswan in the 1960s.

Speaking in one of Alexandria's many cafes, he says the Nubians are now a marginalized people, scattered across Egypt.

HAGGAG HASSAN ODDOUL: They keep us out of our land, because you will not go back to your motherland. We ask all the people of the world, please, look at us. We are in trouble.

FLINTOFF: Oddoul is hoping the revolution will give Nubians a chance to make their case to their fellow Egyptians.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

FLINTOFF: Alexandria's Coptic Christians are among its oldest surviving communities. They have suffered deadly attacks on their churches, including a bombing on New Year's Day that killed 23 worshipers and wounded nearly a hundred others.

Father Macaney Makra of Saint George's Coptic Orthodox Church says the Christians of Alexandria are concerned about the current situation, but he says they're resilient and well-integrated into the community.

MACANEY MAKRA: We cannot look about the Christians as an isolated minority. Of course, we have difficulties in some areas. From the Muslims, there is some liberals, and also there is this Islamic brotherhood. They are talking about a religious country.

FLINTOFF: Subhii Saleh is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who made an unsuccessful run for Parliament in the last election. He says Brotherhood members are committed to Islamic principles of tolerance and protection for religious minorities.

SUBHII SALEH: (Through Translator) The rights of minorities are sacred in Islam, and history will see that there has never been any problems to minorities, except when Islam is pushed away from the system of government.

FLINTOFF: Saleh says the Muslim Brotherhood wants a legitimate voice in a secular political process.

The historian Mohamed Awad says Alexandrians saw a spirit of cooperation among minorities during the revolution.

AWAD: The recent problems we've had show that there is a solidarity between Muslims and Christians, and that, you know, I think Egyptians are becoming more and more aware that they have to take their own fate in their hands.

FLINTOFF: Awad directs a research center at Alexandria's modern library, and he says he hopes that the revolution will be a chance for his city to regain its true character as a cosmopolitan intellectual center.

Corey Flintoff, NPR News, Alexandria.

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