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Egypt Copts mark Christmas with fear of future

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 6, 2013 at 6:14 pm •  Published: January 6, 2013
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CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's minority Christians were celebrating their first Christmas after the election of an Islamist president and a new pope — and following adoption of a constitution many argue has an Islamist slant.

Christians gathered in Cairo's main cathedral Sunday for Midnight Mass on the eve of Orthodox Christmas led by their new pope. Pope Tawadros II was elected in November to replace longtime Pope Shenouda III, who died in March after 40 years as the leader of the church.

Islamist President Mohammed Morsi called Tawadros with Christmas greetings and sent one of his aides to the Christmas mass.

Concerned for their future and their ancient heritage in Egypt, some Copts are reportedly considering leaving the country.

As Egypt struggles with the role of religion in society, many Copts are aligning themselves with moderate Muslims and secular Egyptians who also fear the rise of Islamic power.

Amir Ramzy, a Coptic Christian and a judge in Cairo's court of appeals, said Christmas is a chance to retreat and pray for a "better Egypt."

"Christians are approaching Christmas with disappointment, grief and complaints, fearing not only their problems but Egypt's situation in general," Ramzy said. "During the reign of (ousted President Hosni) Mubarak and the (military rulers), mainly Christians were facing problems, but now with the Muslim Brotherhood leaders, each and every moderate Egyptian is facing problems."

In one of his first public messages after his enthronement, Tawadros said the ouster of Mubarak opened the way for a larger Coptic public role, encouraging them to participate in the nation's evolving democracy.

Egypt's Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's 85 million people, have long complained of discrimination by the state and the country's Muslim majority. Clashes with Muslims have occasionally broken out, sparked by church construction, land disputes or Muslim-Christian love affairs.

Following the ouster of Mubarak in 2011, sectarian violence rose, and attacks on churches sent thousands of Coptic protesters into the streets. A protest in October 2011 was violently quelled by the country's military rulers, leaving 26 people dead and sparking further outrage.

Ereny Rizk, 34, whose brother George died in that incident, said it was the second Christmas without him, but that the election of a new pope has raised her spirits.

"I felt like he's my father. Having him lessened the severity of my grief," she said. "I definitely thought about leaving the country, but two things stopped me. First the churches and the monasteries in Egypt, our heritage that I'll be missing. Also, I decided not to let my brother's blood go in vain."

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