Saturday, 25 June 2011

Inter-faith relations in Egypt - what is the truth?

In April, our Head of Press and InformationJohn Pontifex travelled with a small Aid to the Church in Need team to Egypt on a fact-finding trip. It was his second attempt to visit the faithful in Egypt, after the original travel plans were put on ice as the 25th January Revolution gathered pace. In this series of blogs, John  will be posting his diary entries from the trip, giving an eye-witness glimpse into life for Egypt's 10 million Christians - more than any other country in the Middle East.Saturday, 9th April 2011
I am sat in the back of a car driving through endless traffic in this mega-metropolis that is Cairo. The roads are all underpasses and overpasses surrounded by an endless concrete jungle of buildings. And it goes on for miles without number.

The group of us from Aid to the Church in Need have been talking, trying to make sense of what we’ve seen so far. It seems so confusing.

Now at this point I have to make a confession – namely that for ethical and security reasons, I can’t reveal everything I’m seeing, nor can I identify everybody I speak to. Let’s just say a highly placed Catholic religious figure with close Vatican links has told us: “There is no persecution here. There may be discrimination but even that would need to be proven.”

His comments seemed to be backed up by some graffiti on a wall near his house – showing a Christian cross and a Muslim crescent either side of a red heart.

Graffiti on a wall suggest warm relations between Christians and Muslims in Egypt - is this an accurate reflection of reality?
But on the other hand, we’re just coming back from Ismaelia where we’ve been told a very different story.

Driving parallel to the Suez Canal between Suez itself and Ismaelia, our hosts from the local church here have explained that in this region extremist Islamist movements are at their strongest. The Muslim Brotherhood – the infamous hardline Islamic political party – started here in the 1920s.

A ship on the Suez Canal in Ismaelia, Egypt
What we were told by senior clergy there was that these extremists have been let off the leash now that Mubarak has gone. And of course what that means is that Egypt’s Coptic Catholics who number barely 250,000 – far smaller than their 8 million Coptic Orthodox cousins – are very afraid.

Father Hana, who helps run a maternity hospital in Suez told us: “You can see these fanatic groups coming out. They are clearly recognisable now. They say they want to turn this country into something like Iran.”

Islamists have apparently gone online with threats to kill women appearing in public without a veil. Yes, Egyptians have achieved freedom; but if that means the right to oppress others, what kind of freedom is that?

Find out more about how you can help Christians in Egypt

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