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.

 

Islamic State ‘share in US weapons’ embarrasses Pentagon

Hundreds protest in Iran after horrendous acid attacks

Libya army scores small victory in Benghazi

Masdar to build first large-scale wind farm in GCC

Kasserine reaps bitter harvest from Tunisia revolution: Poverty and terrorism

Turkish woman arrested for stepping on Koran

Erdogan criticises US for airdrops on Kobane

Iraq schools provide shelter but late to open for classes

Syria air force shoots down two of three 'IS warplanes'

Egypt court rules on ‘Nasr City terror cell’

Fire from Egypt wounds two Israeli soldiers near border

By hook or by crook, settlers notch up property gains in East Jerusalem

Turkey envoy meets leader of parallel government in Libya

Israel arrests seven Palestinian fishermen off northern Gaza

Khamenei to Abadi: Iraq can beat 'Islamic State' without foreign troops

Saudi special court rules in cases of riots and terrorism

Only in Libya: Government calls for civil disobedience

Iraq Kurds set to vote on deployment of Peshmerga forces to Syria

Alderton: Morocco unrivalled business gateway to sub-Saharan Africa

Protests over IS turn Istanbul University into war zone

Turkey eyes stricter punishment against lawbreakers at protests

For Sudan President: Promises are something and re-election is something else

Iran returns Abadi to ‘house of obedience’

From traditional military to counterinsurgency force: Syria army grows more capable

South Sudan rivals accept 'responsibility' for civil war

British drones in Iraq also used for Syria surveillance

Turkey launches new wave of wire-tapping arrests

Rise of Shiite militias challenges government authority in Iraq

Syria Kurds show impressive resistance to ‘Islamic State’ in Kobane

Vote or boycott: Grim record of self-serving politicians puts off voters in Tunisia

Egypt universities tighten security to avoid new Islamist violence

Iran forces inside Iraq as Abadi rules out foreign ground intervention!

South Sudan rivals meet in new bid to end civil war

From Morocco into Spain: Crowd of African migrants charges to border fence

Deadly suicide attack targets Shiite mosque in central Baghdad

Turkey gives Iraq Peshmerga forces passage to Kobane

Israel to supply Egypt with natural gas despite sabotage

Kerry seeks help of Southeast Asia in anti-Islamic State push

Qaeda inflicts heavy losses on Huthi rebels in central Yemen

US carries out first weapon airdrops to Kurd fighters near Kobane

Benghazi violence kills 75 people in five days

Morocco accuses Algeria of firing on civilians across border

Australia finalises deal for deployment of Special Forces to Iraq

Tunisia calls on Libya authorities to locate missing journalists

Turkey rejects calls to arm ‘terrorist’ Kurdish party in Syria