Toronto Copts fear for Egypt's future

  • February 9, 2011
Egypt ProtestTORONTO - As the Muslim Brotherhood spoke directly with Egypt’s government and as Christian leaders and Muslim scholars paraded together through Cairo’s Tahrir Square, Toronto’s tiny Coptic Catholic community prayed for peace and wisdom in Egypt, and for the safety of their relatives back home.

“This is our part, to collect our voice and go to God,” said Magda Megalli after Mass Feb. 6 at Holy Family Coptic Catholic Church in Toronto’s west end.

Most Holy Family parishioners send money monthly back to their families, said parish priest Fr. Bishoi Anis. The protests and street fighting that began in Cairo on Jan. 24 and the apparent end to Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule have left Toronto Copts feeling stunned and helpless, he said.

“What can you do here, here in Canada?” Anis asked.

In his homily, Anis urged people to pray.

“We ask God to give His wisdom to wise people, to lead the country in the right direction,” he said.

Anis, like many Toronto Copts, has family and friends in Egypt. He hopes the protests will lead to a secular state with democratic civil society institutions that respect fundamental rights such as religious freedom. But he is concerned Egypt must choose between continuing the dictatorship of the corrupt Mubarak regime or adopting drastic change that could result in an Islamist theocracy.

Asked if he believed the religious rights of minorities would be preserved, Anis told Catholic News Service,  “We are not looking for protection for the minorities, we are looking for protection of the whole country. This is not just Christians and Muslims, we are Egyptians.”

From Cairo’s Tahrir Square on Feb. 6 came pictures of Copts celebrating Mass and joining hands with Muslims. But some of Toronto’s Catholic Copts were hearing darker tales from relatives back home. Mona Ramzy heard from her brother in Cairo that the Muslim Brotherhood was already asking that Egypt be ruled by sharia law.

Ateef Agaybr had heard that at least half the remaining protesters were non-Egyptians in the pay of the Muslim Brotherhood. Just back from Cairo the day before, Waseem Gayed confirmed the rumour of foreigners taking over the protests.

“They speak Arabic with different accents,” he said. “It’s a mess.”

Any prominent role for the Muslim Brotherhood in a future Egypt will be a disaster for Christians, said Rafik Khouzam.

“You are now pulling the dark side of the story into our lives,” he said. “It’s going to happen like Iran.”

None of the Toronto Copts deny that Egyptians had good reason to rise up, and none want to see the Mubarak regime last longer than it takes for an orderly transition to a new government.

“We need conversation. We need dialogue between the government and also the people who are against Mubarak,” said Anis.

About 10 per cent of Egypt’s 80 million people are Christian. Catholic Copts make up about 10 per cent of that.  Christians tend to be concentrated in Egypt’s tiny middle class — squeezed between a very wealthy elite and the vast majority of Egypt’s poor.

As they phone Egypt daily, not all the news Toronto Copts hear is bad. Megalli has heard from her relatives about Christians and Muslims coming together to protect their neighbourhoods ever since the police stopped patrolling the streets. Muslims and Christians are inviting each other into their homes and sharing what they have, she said.

“I’m proud of that. This is how Egyptians look from the inside.”

(With files from Canadian Catholic News)

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