The Men Who Stayed

Amid chaos, Egypt’s Copts hang on and hope

text by Sarah Topol
photographs by David Degner

image Click for more images

In June 2012, when it became clear Egypt’s new president would be Muslim Brotherhood candidate Muhammad Morsi, Atef Gamil decided he needed to start planning for the inevitable. The Coptic Christian real estate agent and father of three got his family’s paperwork together and headed to the Embassy of Georgia to apply for a visa. He also started to explore moving to Cyprus. Mr. Gamil worried the rising power of political Islamists would make life in Egypt even harder for the country’s Christian minority. He knew he had to think about his family.

Mr. Gamil received the Georgian visa without a problem. And he was soon in contact with other Egyptians he knew in Cyprus. Then, he began to think about his children. With one son halfway through medical school, a daughter about to enter college and an 11-year-old in primary school, he thought it might be unwise to uproot them. He decided to wait. He still is not sure it was the right decision.

“There is a fear now when it comes to your personal life — like your family,” Mr. Gamil says, sitting in his small storefront office inShobra, a neighborhood in Cairo known for its mixed Muslim and Christian community. The yellow and pastel green walls are crumbling and adorned simply with a religious icon and a large photograph of his late father.

“Before, tensions in society were controlled under the Mubarak regime, but now with new freedom comes fear for your children that things may get worse.

“Politically, we thought when the former regime was gone things would improve and stabilize, but now we are going backward.” As he speaks, Mr. Gamil’s disappointment plays across his brown eyes. “Later I thought, ‘This is my country, this is where I grew up.’ It’s not fair,” he says, shaking his head.

Two years after the revolution that deposed strongman Hosni Mubarak, the idealism of the uprising and the unity of the opposition have disappeared. A new, more volatile Egypt has emerged. In the face of rising political Islam, increased violence and religious prejudice, Egypt’s Christians, roughly 10 percent of the population, feel a heightened sense of insecurity in a country they have called their own for millennia.

The country’s faltering economy and subsequent turmoil have affected all Egyptians, but Christians are feeling even more precarious about their prospects.

“Copts, after the revolution, had very high hopes that they were coming out of a dictatorship where they longed for lost equality,” says Youssef Sidhom, editor in chief of Watany, a weekly Coptic newspaper. “But after the revolution, everybody is suffering from the absence of state, the lack of security and of course the shameful rise of violence. This affects both Copts and Muslims.”

Salafis, extremist Muslims who eschewed politics under Mubarak, have risen to the fore in post-revolutionary Egypt. They have become increasingly vocal about their vision for Egypt and have ratcheted up their anti-Christian rhetoric.

Post a Comment | Comments(0)

1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 |