The Media Line
When Antonius Nashaat had to flee his house in the Cairo suburb of Giza last month following a business feud between Muslims and Christians, he had little faith the police would intervene to stop the violence.
"We don't expect the security services to rescue us," the 24 year old accountant told The Media Line. Under (former President Hosni) Mubarak, the police would put out fires. But since the revolution, we get no protection and the flames just burn until our houses are destroyed."
Throughout Egypt, local Christians, known as Copts, lament the gradual decline of Muslim-Christian relations since a 2011 revolution ousted Mubarak, demoralized the security services, and destabilized the country. And as an Islamist government that has pledged a more religious bent takes power, many fear the situation will only deteriorate.
The spat in Giza started as a routine business transaction. A Muslim client claimed his Coptic launderer ripped his shirt. An argument ensued and profanities were exchanged. Soon the two protagonists brought families and friends into the melee which snowballed into an inter-confessional brawl. When the dust settled, approximately 192 families were evicted from their homes, some of which they claim were looted and destroyed.
"The revolution has left us conflicted," explains Emad Gad, a Coptic parliamentarian. "A new generation of Copts is becoming politically active from their time on the streets during the revolution. But we are also very vulnerable fearing the increased power of the Islamists."
Many Copts fear that the Muslim Brotherhood -- the Islamist organization that swept the parliamentary and presidential elections -- will impose Islamic law in a country whose legal system is largely based on the secular Napoleonic code. They worry their cherished freedoms will evaporate when long-bearded men in parliamentary committees rewrite laws to bring them in line with medieval Islamic legal texts.
"Soon we will no longer have an Egyptian state for all its citizens, but an Islamist state for all its Muslims," claims Ilyas Salam who owns an office supply shop in the Cairo neighbourhood of Shobra.
Coptic community leaders agree. "The situation is getting worse after the Muslim Brotherhood's victories, and the president will make it worse," Fady Yusuf Zakir, the founder of the Coalition of Coptic Egypt tells The Media Line. "The Islamist movement is controlling all of Egypt now and they can do what they want."
Today, many Copts look back to the Mubarak era as halcyon days. But the deposed leader never gave the community a voice in national affairs. Despite accounting for up to 10% of the population, Copts historically won fewer than 1% of seats in parliamentary elections, which were largely rigged to ensure regime-backed candidates prevailed. And though Mubarak portrayed himself as a protector of Christian rights, his ruling party, known as the National Democratic Party (NDP), was not. In the 2010 elections - the last before the 2011 revolution - only 10 candidates of the 780 who ran under the NDP banner were Copts. In the 2005 parliamentary elections, only one Copt won a seat.
Mubarak did not staff his regime with Copts either. Traditionally Copts would get one ministerial position out of a cabinet that often numbered more than twenty. And the community was largely shut out of sensitive military positions in the intelligence services and Republican Guard.
But though Mubarak did not give Copts a voice in national affairs, he kept sectarian tensions in check.
"Under Mubarak, incidents like this happened but they were more minor and police would deal with it," Antonius said, referring to the Giza business dispute. "But now the police do nothing but watch and do nothing to deal with the situation.
It is hardly surprising that the security services have chosen to watch from the sidelines. They were overrun by protesters in the early days of the revolution and were later demonized for the brutal tactics they have historically used to quash dissent. Many became poster boys for the Mubarak regime's abuses that the protesters wanted to eliminate. Today, security officials keep a low profile. As a result, when sectarian tensions flare, there is no one to put them out.
"We look for the police, but we can't find them," notes Zaki. Until they do, Copts are likely to feel alienated and insecure in a new Egypt many believe is no longer their own.
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