First Published: 2013-01-06

 

Anti-Christmas fatwa: One but not last of Egypt Copts’ worries

 

Egypt's minority Coptic Christians celebrate their first Christmas under Islamist rule, amid climate of fear, uncertainty.

 

Middle East Online

By Haitham El-Tabei – CAIRO

Christmas or funeral candles?

Egypt's minority Coptic Christians celebrate on Monday their first Christmas under Islamist rule and amid a climate of fear and uncertainty for their future.

"I do not really feel safe," says Ayman Ramzi, who feels his community threatened by the rise of Islamists in the world's biggest Sunni Arab nation.

He was summarising the growing feeling of insecurity in Egypt where Copts, the largest and one of the oldest Christian community in the Middle East, will attend midnight mass later Sunday ahead of Christmas.

President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, has pledged to be the "president of all Egyptians."

Late last month he renewed the pledge saying that a controversial new constitution drawn up by an Islamist-dominated council guaranteed equal rights and freedom for all Egyptians "with no exceptions."

But Ramzi, 38, says a growing number of "hostile" statements from several radical Islamist groups against Christians is cause for concern.

He pointed to a fatwa, religious edict, posted several days ago on the Internet warning Muslims that it was forbidden to wish Copts a Merry Christmas.

The fatwa was posted by the Committee for the Legitimate Rights and Reform, a group close to radical Salafist factions, which includes among its members the Brotherhood's number two Khairat al-Shater.

And recently the independent newspaper Al-Watan quoted Salafist figure Hisham al-Ashri as saying he wanted to meet Copts outside their churches to convert them to Islam.

Ashri, who was identified as the founder of the ultra-conservative Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, also demanded that Coptic women wear the Islamic veil.

"I'm really shocked by so many reactionary statements," said Madonna Nagi, a Coptic student, 23, who also slammed media reports alleging that Christians instigated recent anti-Morsi protests.

Copts, who represent 6-10 percent of Egypt's 83-million-strong population, are spread across the country with most concentrated in central Egypt.

They belong to all classes of society -- from garbage collectors to the great patrician families -- but few rise to hold government jobs and most fear they will be further marginalised in the new Egypt.

The transition since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak after massive protests in February 2011 has been marked by several confrontations between Copts and Muslims or security forces, some of them deadly.

And many still remember with shock the attack against a Coptic church in Alexandria on January 1, 2011, that killed 23 people.

Today many Copts are thinking of immigrating, like relatives and neighbours who have already left the country.

"My sister is scared for the future and wants to go to the United States with her children," said airline employee Raymond Faez.

"But I do not want to leave my country," he said but nevertheless admitted that there is a feeling of "general malaise" among Christians in Egypt.

In the densely-populated Cairo district if Shubra, several Christian traders show warning letters from radical Islamists they received ahead of Christmas.

"We have been getting such letters for years," said shopkeeper Morkos Rushdi, who seems resigned to his fate.

As under Mubarak's regime, the Islamic sharia law remains the "principal source of legislation" in the new constitution that was adopted in December and critics say it could pave the way for radical interpretations of the law.

But for the Copts there is still discrimination -- namely restrictive legislation concerning building new churches in a country where there are no limits for building mosques.

 

Obama vetoes bill allowing 9/11 families to sue Saudi Arabia

Hadi vows to ‘extract Yemen from claws of Iran’

US, Russia trade blame for collapse of ceasefire in Syria

Petrofac to resume work in Tunisia after labour dispute

Saudi Arabia reportedly doubts oil output deal

Mosul offensive to start in ‘next few weeks’

New wave of air strikes pummels Aleppo

Morocco asks to rejoin African Union

Air raids pound rebel-held Aleppo

Turkey arrests prominent writer brothers

Egypt shipwreck death toll rises to 133

Gulen says will return to Turkey if US backs extradition

Occupation troops shoot, wound Palestinian with knife

UN eyes alternate aid delivery route for Syria's Aleppo

Iran condemns Saudi strikes in Yemen

Turkey's Erdogan says US arming Syrian Kurds

Obama to block Saudi 9/11 prosecution

Oil prices ease as focus shifts to producers' meeting

Opposition 'minister' among 12 dead in Syria car bomb

'13 dead' in clashes with IS in Libya's Sirte

20 civilians killed in Yemen rebel port raid

Turkish border town hit by rocket fired from Syria

Syria's White Helmets win Swedish human rights prize

UN pleads with Assad over food aid stuck at Syria border

Rouhani jabs USA over nuclear deal in UN address

Dozens more feared dead in Egypt boat tragedy

US breaks 'taboo' on Iran trade, banking

Kuwait MP gets new jail term for insulting Gulf rulers

Kuwait MPs demand urgent debate on petrol price hike

Dozens of rebels leave Homs under deal with Assad regime

Push for Iraq's Mosul faces myriad challenges

US drone strike kills 3 Qaeda suspects in Yemen

UN hopes Syria talks can resume in a 'few weeks'

Iraq forces recapture northern town from ISIS

Greece rejects asylum claim of Turkish 'coup' officer

Raids set rebel areas of Syria's Aleppo ablaze

Yemen rebels accuse detained American of spying

Israel arrests 35 Palestinians in raids

Bahrain court upholds dissolution of main Shiite opposition group

Turkey frees top journalist, arrests academic brother in coup probe

Kerry, Lavrov discuss Syria in New York

Jewish settlers make last stand on Palestinian hill

Ethiopia says Nile dam to go ahead regardless of impact study

Calls for 1988 Iran massacre probe as tape emerges

Four medics killed in strike on Syria clinic