Demonstrations Stir Fear Among Egypt's Copts Members of Egypt's Coptic Christian community gathered near Alexandria on Wednesday to commemorate the deaths of 21 people in a recent suicide bombing. They say such attacks, and rising tensions between Muslims and Christians, make many nervous about the popular attempts to oust President Mubarak and his regime.
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Demonstrations Stir Fear Among Egypt's Copts

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Demonstrations Stir Fear Among Egypt's Copts

Demonstrations Stir Fear Among Egypt's Copts

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This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Robert Siegel.

Before Egyptians launched their protests against President Hosni Mubarak last month, the country's Coptic minority was already rioting in the streets.

Orthodox Christians accused the government of not doing enough to protect their community, especially after a bombing at a Coptic church on New Year's Day that killed some two dozen people.

But with Mubarak's regime in danger of falling, many Copts who once opposed him are now coming to the defense of their embattled leader.

NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson traveled to a Coptic monastery in the northern Egyptian town of Muriat and filed this report.

Unidentified Man: (Singing in foreign language)

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON: Saint Mena's monastery is packed with mourners who come to memorialize their fellow Copts killed in nearby Alexandria last month.

Unidentified Group: (Singing in foreign language)

NELSON: At a tomb where many of the victims are buried, teenagers describe the attack in song. They sing how those killed are now in heaven with dozens of Iraqi Catholics killed late last year during Mass in an al-Qaida-linked attack.

Father BISHOUY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Father Bishouy says the mourners here aren't just sad but mad. He explains they are angry at their government because it hasn't brought those responsible for the suicide blast to justice.

That comes as little surprise, he adds, given recent media reports implicating former Egyptian Interior Minister Habib al-Adly in attacks on Coptic Christians.

Fr. BISHOUY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: The priest says the ongoing uprising to oust Mubarak could become a way for Copts to achieve more rights in Egyptian society, provided Islamists don't co-opt the revolution.

That view is one shared by many Copts, who account for some 10 percent of Egyptians. They say Mubarak and his cabinet are being made to answer for past wrongs. But they also worry that Islamist groups long suppressed by the Egyptian government will gain enough power to turn Egypt into a fundamentalist state, subject to Islamic laws and hostile toward religious minorities like the Copts.

Construction engineer Raymond Fraig says of particular concern is the banned Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr. RAYMOND FRAIG (Construction Engineer): They have Islamic agendas, which will reflect on everything in Egypt. They will be another Iran, another Hamas, which is not going to be good for Egyptians. We will lose many things, many of our relations with the United States and the European Union. I think it will be a disaster.

NELSON: Brotherhood leaders deny any such goals. Their group, so far, has been a lesser player in the ongoing protests and negotiations. The brotherhood has also announced it will not field any presidential candidate in the upcoming elections.

But that isn't easing the Christians' worries. Fraig's friend is locksmith Michael Roushdy William, who was wounded when he left the Alexandria church as it blew up.

He holds up an Islamist flyer, he says, was being distributed on the city's streets last weekend. It calls for Egypt to become an Islamic republic.

But William says the uprising has also led to an unprecedented calm between Christians and Muslims here. He says it happened after Egyptian police deserted their posts some two weeks ago, leaving it to residents to form patrols to prevent looting and theft.

Mr. MICHAEL ROUSHDY WILLIAM (Locksmith): Muslims and Christians are together right now. There is no idea to go and protest over the church or mosque. Everybody is protecting himself. And God is protecting his church.

NELSON: William and other Copts predict the calm won't last.

They say that's why it is important not to oust Mubarak before his term ends in September. They admire his strong anti-Islamist stance.

One Copt who is backing Mubarak is Camellia Lutfi. She's embroiled in a lingering battle with the government over her teenage boys' forced conversion to Islam after her husband switched religion.

Lutfi says Mubarak never responded to her written pleas for help.

Ms. CAMELLIA LUTFI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: But she argues Mubarak deserves to be treated with more respect than the protesters are showing him. Lutfi adds that forcing him out through protests only tarnishes the image of Egypt.

Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News.

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