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Christians turn out in strong numbers, trying to stem Islamist win in Egypt’s vote

ICC Note:

“[Egypt’s] Christian minority turned out in droves for voting Monday and Tuesday in the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February,” The Associated Press reports.

11/29/2011 Egypt (Associated Press) – Ahead of elections, Egypt’s Coptic Church discreetly told followers to vote for an alliance of leftist and liberal parties sponsored by a Christian tycoon. The move by a Church normally wary of inserting itself into politics showed how deeply Egyptian Christians fear that Islamists will come to power.

The country’s Christian minority turned out in droves for voting Monday and Tuesday in the first parliamentary elections since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in February.

Many indeed said they had “voted for the eye” — a reference to the Egyptian Bloc, the coalition that the Church pointed to. Each party has a campaign symbol so that illiterate voters can identify their choices on the ballot, and the Bloc’s symbol was the eye.

In pockets where their community is concentrated, the flow of Christians to the polls was strong. In the Cairo district of Shubra, men and women with cross tattoos on their wrists — a common tradition among Egyptian Christians — kept lines full through the day. White-haired elders, equipped with chairs and bottles of water for the long wait, waited with young men and women who took time off from jobs to get to the ballot box.

Almost all expressed a common motivation: Stop the Islamists.

“We are voting for liberal parties as a means of survival,” said Farid George, a Christian in the southern city of Assiut. “Egypt is our country. My kids were raised here and I will die here.”

The prospect of an Islamist victory in the election has Egypt’s Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population of 85 million, terrified that one day strict Islamic law will be imposed. Talk of leaving Egypt has increasingly circulated among many Christians since Mubarak’s fall, raising fears over the fate of a community that predates the coming of Islam to the country in the 7th century.

Islamist parties are expected to be the biggest winners in the election — likely to gain a plurality or even a majority in the new parliament. Most prominent is the Muslim Brotherhood, the best organized political force in Egypt. Christians are nervous enough about the Brotherhood, but even more daunting to them are the Salafis, ultraconservatives whose ideology is close to the puritanical doctrines of Saudi Arabia.

The Islamic Group, or Gamaa al-Islamiya, a former militant group that renounced violence and is now a political party, is believed to have been behind fliers distributed in Assiut warning that Christians were trying to block an Islamist victory and that “the enemies of Islam” must be countered at the ballot box.

“This is dangerous, very dangerous,” George, a prominent businessman with several car dealerships in Assiut, said while talking about the fliers with his employees. George is himself a candidate in the vote, though not with the Egyptian Bloc. “I will not have a man in a beard tell me how to dress my wife, how to raise my kids, how to run my business.”

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