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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

The violence has abated, and 2012 was characterized more by the struggle for political and religious rights, said Hossam Bahgat, the director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

"It is not actual frequent sectarian violence, it is fear of further marginalization and second class citizenship," he said, adding that Egypt has been deeply polarized as it drafted the constitution. Christians and liberals walked out of the committee writing it, complaining that their concerns were not being addressed by the Islamist majority.

Youssef Sidhom, the editor of Egypt's main Coptic newspaper, Watani, said Christians are more concerned for the identity of Egypt, saying that legislation based on the new constitution will be focus of attention out of fear of restrictions on the way of life of Christians and their freedom of worship and expression.

"Egypt is stepping into 2013 split and divided between Copts and moderate Muslims on one side confronting political Islam and fundamentalists on the other side," Sidhom said. "It will only be (resolved) through reconciliation, and this is the challenge that we will have to meet."

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with EIPR who monitors religious freedom cases in Egypt, said Coptic Christians are facing two new sets of problems: cases of insulting Islam and fear for their life style because of increasingly assertive radical Islamists.

In October, two Coptic boys were put in a juvenile detention after locals accused them of urinating on pages of the Quran, Islam's holy book. It was one in a series of cases against Coptic Christians in the same period, following the fury over an anti-Islam film produced in the United States. The case against the boys was later dropped after mediation.

Ibrahim said some wealthy Copts, who have connections abroad, have temporarily sought to leave Egypt.

"But the majority (of Christians) are also less fortunate," he said. "Like most Egyptians, they are with little education and have difficult economic conditions."

Verna Ghayes, a 21-year old arts student, also noted the deteriorating economic situation. Her father, an architect, lost his job because of a tight market. She felt the hardships, have, in turn, encouraged Christians to seek relief from God.

"With all the unfortunate events that are happening to Egypt, Christians came closer to God, they started to pray more, believing that only God could handle it," she said. "For me that's the good thing, and everything is according to God's plan," she said.