The recent horrific events in Egypt have turned the attention of the world to the plight of Christians in Egypt. In the current edition of ONE, Magdy Samaan writes about Copts in Cairo:
The parish of Our Lady of the Annunciation Coptic Catholic Church has grown with the neighborhood. The Rev. Youhanna Saad says its first Divine Liturgy, 18 years ago, had only four attendees; now, the church serves more than 600 families. Through his close relationship with the tight-knit community, Father Saad understands the concerns within his congregation.
“There is a state of anxiety of the future and a feeling of fear because of the economic situation and increasingly sectarian incidents against the Copts,” Father Saad says.
As it is the only Catholic church in a large area, buses bring families from a wide radius every Friday and Sunday to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. After the Friday liturgy, parishioners of all ages — but from one common economic background — come together to share an inexpensive breakfast of beans and falafel.
The church acts not only as a place of worship, but also a site for activities such as nursery school, elder or youth meetings, Sunday school and programs to assist people with special needs. But the congregation continues to grow, outstripping the building’s capacity and prompting Father Saad to seek a license to turn a new building nearby — currently a service center — into a more ample church.
“The situation is normal for us as Christians,” says Raof Rateb, 53, a local shopkeeper. “But regarding making living, we don’t feel secure. The rising of prices is horrible.”
...Renowned as one of the most beautiful, cosmopolitan and diverse cities in the world in the first half of the 20th century, Cairo integrated people from different nationalities and religions into Egyptian society — where they could live, work and worship freely.
This tolerant face of Cairo has gradually faded. Much of the country’s Jewish population left the country in the 50’s because of state persecution amid the Arab-Israeli conflict. Many of those who remained later faced expulsion — along with foreign-born Egyptian citizens who lost their citizenship — amid a wave of Arab nationalism intensified by events such as the Suez Crisis. And for a variety of reasons that often relate to economic mismanagement and a restrictive and heavy-handed state, many middle-class Egyptians, including Copts, have emigrated since the 60’s.
Meanwhile, Egypt has witnessed the steady growth of the Muslim Brotherhood and other more militant Islamic groups such as Jemaah Islamiyah and Islamic Jihad.
From a population of about two million in the 50’s, Cairo has expanded to some 23 million, growing in uncontrolled spurts. Among other factors, high rural unemployment has driven millions to Cairo in search of a better life.
As a result, it has become one of the most polluted and congested cities in the world, ringed by unplanned districts where newcomers carry with them various, relatively isolated rural cultures, creating enclaves and slowing assimilation.
Nowadays, Muslims and Christians in Cairo enjoy a mostly peaceful relationship. The megacity keeps its people busy with other daily crises. Moreover, the shared memory of a highly cosmopolitan city does live on in the old neighborhoods, old movies and other cultural relics.