Coptic Christians in Los Angeles voice cautious optimism for Egypt’s future
There is hope that the uprising may bring positive change for Egypt’s religious minorities, including Copts.
“There is always a risk, but it gives me hope that the voice of the people is louder than the voice of tyranny. It gives me hope for Christians,” a Coptic Christian told the Los Angeles Times after hearing that President Mubarak had resigned. However, many Christians are fearful of Egypt’s uncertain future, believing that an Islamist government take-over could bring to power a more tyrannical regime than was seen under Mubarak.
By Nomi Morris
2/12/2011 Egypt, U.S. (Los Angeles Times) – As news spread Friday that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak had resigned, members of California’s Coptic Christian community shared a sense of joy and relief with family and friends, many of whom had stood alongside their Muslim neighbors in Cairo and Alexandria during 18 days of pro-democracy protests.
“I just burst into tears. I was so overjoyed, so proud,” said Susanna Khalil, 27, an attorney in Santa Monica. Khalil’s mother immigrated to the United States from Cairo in 1975 and her father, who died in 1987, served in the Egyptian air force with Mubarak.
Khalil was thrilled by the news, but said her mother and aunts still worry about the weeks ahead and how they will affect Copts, Egypt’s largest religious minority. “There is always a risk,” she said. “But it gives me hope that the voice of the people is louder than the voice of tyranny. It gives me hope for Christians.”
At St. Mark Coptic Orthodox Church in West Los Angeles, where Khalil was baptized, senior cleric Father Bishoy Gobreial, 82, responded to Friday’s news with prayer.
“I feel that everything is going to be quieter now. I hope the new regime will succeed in keeping things calm. I hope the Lord will take care of our Church,” Gobreial said.
The Coptic Church dates to the time of the Apostles, according to church tradition.
Copts, who make up about 10% to 12% of Egypt’s population of more than 80 million, have faced discrimination and rising attacks there in recent years, including a suicide bombing in the northern city of Alexandria last month that killed 24 worshipers and injured scores of others outside a church.
“What has happened in Egypt has united not only Copts and Muslims but everyone,” said Father Raphael Hanna, another priest at St. Mark. “We are united against unfair rule and suffering. Suffering doesn’t differentiate between religions.”
Since the late 1960s, tensions have grown between Egypt’s Muslim and Coptic communities. Some analysts have suggested the Mubarak regime has deliberately fomented sectarian strife to stoke fears of Islamist extremism and justify emergency powers and repressive measures.
“At best they turn a blind eye, at worst they are involved,” Khalil, the Los Angeles lawyer, said of the former regime’s alleged complicity in attacks against Christians.