How Will the Coronavirus Impact Egypt?
By Claire Evans
05/06/2020 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – COVID-19 has brought the globe to a grinding halt. But as each country addresses the pandemic, new trends are emerging which could provide clues as to how the country will evolve in the coming months or years. ICC identified the top three Christian demographics in Egypt impacted by the coronavirus and interviewed representatives for their thoughts on how COVID-19 impacts their own demographic and future.
ICC’s Hope House program reaches hundreds of Christian living in extreme poverty because of their faith identity. By surveying a third of these children, ICC is able to ascertain that roughly 80% of their families rely upon day labor and have had their source of income eliminated because of COVID-19. In some cases, the primary breadwinner was working in a major city because of economic discrimination, and the shelter at home orders effectively prevented the families from reuniting while also disrupting income.
“I ask Jesus to get my father back from Cairo,” shares one child. “He works there, and it’s hard to get back to our village.” Her mother adds, “I am waiting for my husband. He has not enough money to get back (home).”
A family who relies upon day laborer also adds, “We are daily workers, so our work has stopped. But we believe that Jesus will not forget us.”
Those who are not day laborers, but are craftsmen or farmers, are also impacted. For example, one woman explains, “My husband is a craft man, so it’s hard to get work these days. Also, the clients don’t have enough money to pay. But we trust Jesus that he will help us.”
Another adds, “My husband is a craft man, and he works, but doesn’t receive many orders. Also, the clients don’t have money to pay!! It’s a very hard time.”
WATCH: For Christian families who already have experienced economic discrimination and are regulated to second-class citizens by society, the long-term financial impact can be severe. COVID-19 is already threatening widespread economic impact across Egypt, but the impact could be felt most heavily by marginalized Christians. The situation threatens to deepen the cycle of poverty, which is already their daily reality.
Muslim Background Believers
A sample size of 40 Muslim Background Believers (MBBs) living in the greater Cairo area showed that 100% were unable to have any income because of COVID-19. These MBBs could have relied upon family support during this time. For example, they could have lived with their family so that additional rent expenses could be avoided. However, these MBBs are living in exile because of their families’ rejection of their faith.
“My family knew that I became a Christian,” explains an MBB. “It ended up that they threatened to kill me if I stick with Christianity. I left the house and went to a faraway area from home, so I don’t meet them around. I am working as a taxi driver, but in the last couple of months, because of COVID-19, work is so little.”
A different MBB shared a similar story. “I escaped from home from two years. I work in a wholesale for fruit and vegetables. I used to carry boxes of fruit, but in the last days, work is very slow. I don’t know when it will finish. I live with a couple of young men, and we share the rent.”
“(My family) were going to kill us, so we ran away, got married, and we live in a far place from our families,” adds an MBB who married a Christian woman. “I work in a coffee shop, but with coronavirus, all the coffees are closed, and it seems that it will be a long time until it opens again. I am staying at home with no support.”
WATCH: Because of the violent persecution MBBs constantly face, they are an extremely transitory demographic of the Christian population. Safety concerns are frequently raised for those MBBs whose conversion may be discovered during COVID-19, and have no chance of escape. For those who already have escaped, there is an expectation of increased mobility within the MBB community as they again seek to readjust their lives into whatever new normal is created after COVID-19.
Mob attacks targeting Christian communities are a common occurrence, often arising over a perceived wrong committed by an individual Christian against the broader Islamic community. In such cases, it is not unusual for members of the Christian community to leave their village because of the social pressure following the incident.
In 2018, a security situation developed in Upper Egypt where a mob targeted the Christian community after an individual was accused of blasphemy. Although he has completed his 3-year jail sentence, he remains incarcerated because the authorities are afraid his release would cause another security incident. His family was displaced from the village, and housing has remained an ongoing issue throughout this period. COVID-19 places additional economic stress on their host, the grandfather, who is providing for the family until his son’s release from prison. Sometimes the family tries testing the atmosphere by making a brief visit home, but it is too tense. “We must tell the police about that (the visit). So for just 15 minutes (we) visit the house in the presence of security officials. I miss the days we were staying in our house… also my grandpa’s house is very poor,” says a son.
The family does have a safe location, but cannot travel there because of COVID-19 and would not try until the husband is freed from prison. “I wish that I could pull my dad out of that place. I miss the days we were gathering together, playing and laughing,” adds another son. These uncertainties add new stress to their ongoing situation.
WATCH: While mob attacks are less common within the past year, the implications of these attacks are for a lifetime. Displaced families struggle to provide stability for their children, maintain consistent income, and their rights often ignored by the authorities. The presence of churches in rural Egypt is often a contentious issue igniting mob attacks. As the churches reopen after COVID-19, monitoring the social atmosphere will be increasingly important.
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