Christians Stuck in Egypt’s Generational Chasm: The Established Voices
By Claire Evans
01/16/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The generational gap in Egypt can feel like an ever widening chasm. The older generation sees the youth as rebellious, reckless, and unrestrained. The younger generation views the other as conventional, changeless, and uncompromising. Generational challenges are hardly new, and Christians are not immune to these problems. But when looking at religious freedom in Egypt, opinions about the most important issues affecting Christians are split among generational lines.
For Egyptian Christians aged 30 years and older who are already well established in life, opinions about religious freedom were built as they watched their country experience crisis after crisis. Egypt was a fairly open country until roughly the 1970s, at which point it transformed into a heavily Islamic society. Wars, terrorism, economic instability, and broken infrastructure were the landscape of daily life. All of these factors contributed toward increasing religious persecution.
Kirolos witnessed this change firsthand. He was an army officer during the war of the 1970s, and upon his return to civilian life, Kirolos was shocked to see how much society had changed. “I found the society more hateful to the Christians,” he recalled. “People had become more racist against the Christians. During the Friday prayers, I always listen to the Imam insult us, describing us as infidels. I live in a house which is surrounded by four mosques, which means that I have been insulted four times each Friday!”
Years of hearing these kinds of insults, week after week, slowly evaporated confidence in speaking about incidents where the verbal abuse turned into physical. “I am always afraid that if any problem happens between any member in my family and any Muslim, and we have to go to the police station. Definitely we will not take our rights even if it is clear that the other Muslim party is mistaken,” said one housewife.
The government’s bias towards Islam meant that there was no one Christians could appeal to when their rights were violated. For the generation of Christians that witnessed this transformation, one of the first places where they felt this constant pressure was in the workplace. Economic woes became, and often remain, central in their minds.
“I have stopped looking to get promoted in my work,” said a lawyer who serves in the High Court. “I am the only Christian in the office and I got passed by many times, even (though) my evaluation was good. Every day my colleagues at work would insist that I enter with them in discussion related to religion, and they insist that I would answer their questions. Sometimes I go home feeling very drained.”
Most Christians, however, are unable to get a job like this. Thus, economic security for their children becomes a priority for religious freedom. “When I look to the future, I am really worried about my son. [He] will definitely have problems [finding] a job because of his name, which indicates that he is a Christian,” worried one mother. “Frankly speaking, even if his name was not that obvious, his ID has written in it his religion, so he will not get a good job.”
Some Christians, however, don’t experience this kind of economic persecution because they have made their career in the Church or Christian organizations. While the jobs may not necessarily pay well, they are at least insulated from the daily challenges of working in an Islamic workforce. For these Christians, government bureaucracy and issues impacting the Church remain their top concerns.
“It is a very difficult feeling when you are not sure that you will get your simple rights and you are worried each time you are going to finish any papers in any official office, that the employee does not like your name and he will deliberately delay your papers,” said one doctor.
But managing the difficult bureaucracy is almost preferable when compared to managing the issues impacting the churches. Bureaucracy effectively stalled most churches from operating, and many within this generation have long memories of mobs attacking entire Christian communities, especially churches.
“In the days of the Muslim Brotherhood ruling, the extremists attacked a big church,” said one Christian school teacher, as an example. “All of us were angry [about] this incident, and on the day after, Muslim Salafists guiders visited the school. They tried to provoke us. This visit was for the purpose of increasing anger inside our hearts!”
Undoubtedly, Egypt is different than before. The Muslim Brotherhood is no longer in power, in fact, the government is actively restricting the Brotherhood’s activities. The country is more stable. There is more infrastructure development. It does provide a sigh of relief, but still the country remains Islamic. The older generation knows how difficult it is to seize a good future in this kind of environment. What kind of future remains for the next generation?