By Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by AB Griffin
The tension after the fall of the Muslim Brother Muhammad Mursi can be felt all over Egypt. Life in Cairo is carrying on, the cafés and teahouses of this huge megacity are full. But the people are more attentive than otherwise and more nervous. The taxi-drivers are avoiding certain districts. The army is now guarding important points with tanks and soldiers. Repeatedly helicopters and whole squadrons of aircraft fly over Cairo’s centre. This is intended to highlight the army’s solidarity with the demonstrators on Tahrir Square, and also to convey a feeling of security. On Friday there were bloody clashes between supporters and opponents of Mursi.
Only a few streets from the world-famous square there is the snack bar of a Coptic Christian. He doesn’t want his name or his picture to be published. You never know, he says. At the entrance to his shop on Saturday, however, there hangs a poster that cannot be overlooked. It shows the head of the army Al-Sisi, who announced last Wednesday that Mursi had been deposed. To the left and right of it there are the Grand Sheikh of the Azhar University and the Coptic Pope Tawadros II. The Coptic snack bar owner thus wants to send out a message: “We Christians and Muslims belong together in Egypt. That’s what makes up our country. Most of my customers are Muslims. We won’t allow anyone to drive us apart.” But this is precisely what the strategy of the defeated Islamists appears to be nowadays.
In Cairo on Sunday, in the Franciscan church devoted to Saint Joseph Holy Mass is being celebrated. The enormous church is only sparsely occupied. A younger visitor who, before the Mass, had lit a candle in front of the image of the Madonna says why this is so: “We’re nervous. You never know what the Islamists are planning. They blame us for the fall of Mursi. Of course, that’s a load of rubbish. The vast majority of the people wanted to get rid of him, not only us Christians.”
The Franciscan Father Michael Selim Zaki is celebrating Mass this Sunday in the Church of St Joseph under greater tension than otherwise. “I have already watched very carefully to see who comes through the door. We’re afraid of the Islamists’ revenge,” he says afterwards in the vestry. The young priest is Egyptian and knows only too well the attacks on Christians in his country. “We Christians are an easy target because we don’t use violence. It’s easy to attack us. But we trust that the army will protect us. They must free the country of the violent Islamists.” They are very nervous and upset at the moment because they’ve had to give up power. “They wanted to make Egypt their property. But Egypt does not belong to the fundamentalists. We’re not Afghanistan.”
In fact,the Islamists’ hatred has already claimed the first Christian victims. On Saturday a Coptic-Orthodox priest was murdered by masked Islamists. The cleric was secretary to the Bishop of Al-Arish, a coastal town in the north of the Sinai Peninsula. According to reports in the Egyptian media, Abuna Mina Aboud was killed in his car. The Coptic diocese reports that the murder had instilled panic in the Christians in Al-Arish. The Islamists there have not stopped spreading hate slogans against the Christians. Sinai has long been seen as a stronghold of extremist Islam. The home of Father Michael, the tourist destination of Luxor in the south of Egypt, was also the scene of anti-Christian attacks. “On Friday of last week Islamists set light to a dozen Christian houses in a place near Luxor and they destroyed our businesses. There have also been fatalities among the Christians. But we’re used to this.”
“Stick to the Eucharistic faith”
Even so Father Michael finds it possible to see something good in the situation. “The Church is growing as its faith deepens. It’s an old law that the Church grows when it experiences difficulties. The blood of the martyrs is the seed of Christians.” The priest knows of house communities which had formed in the recent past to read the Holy Scripture. “While reading the Holy Scripture they experience how the Lord shows us that he is close even today.” Father Michael had preached previously about the closeness of the Lord in the Eucharist. After all, the Catholics in Egypt celebrated the festival of Corpus Christi on Sunday. For a number of years they have been following the Orthodox calendar. “There’s no question of a procession,” says Father Michael, “that used to be held previously when the spirit was more liberal. It’s no longer possible today. But in my sermon I still encouraged the faithful to stick to the Eucharistic faith. The dominant Muslim majority in the country do not share it with us. For us Christians the Holy Eucharist is the source of life. Without it we can do nothing.”
In response to the question as to what Christians in the west can do for their Egyptian brothers in faith Father Pater Michael does not need long to find an answer: “Come and visit us as tourists. Many Christians are employed in the tourist industry. Egypt is a beautiful country. Your visit will secure the livelihood of Christian families. If you are afraid and do not wish to come: you can always pray. Pray for Egypt and us Christians. I beg you to do this with all my heart.”