The Associated Press reports a backlash of conservative Muslim sentiment in Egypt after the fall of President Mubarak. Although the changes have resulted in the easing of many of Mubarak’s strict anti-Christian rules, radical Muslims are using the lack of strict control to bring even harsher oppression of Christians in their local areas.
The AP reports: Ferial Habib was stopped at the doorstep of her new high school with clear instructions: either put on a headscarf or no school this year. Habib refused. For the next two weeks, Habib reported to school in the southern Egyptian village of Sheik Fadl every day in her uniform, without the head covering, only to be denied a place at school by teachers.
One day, Habib heard the school loudspeakers echoing her name and teachers with megaphones leading a number of students in chants of “We don’t want Ferial here,” the teenager told The Associated Press.
Incidents like this stoke the fears of Egypt’s significant Christian minority that they will become victims as Islamists grow more assertive after the Feb. 11 toppling of President Hosni Mubarak. It also illustrates how, amid the country’s political turmoil with little sense of who is in charge and government control weakened, Islamic conservatives in low-level posts can step in and try to unilaterally enforce their own decisions.
Wagdi Halfa, one of Habib’s lawyers, said the root problem is a lack of the rule of law. “We don’t want more laws but we want to activate the laws already in place,” he said. “We are in a dark tunnel in terms of sectarian tension. Even if you have the majority who are moderate Muslims, a minority of extremists can make big impact on them and poison their minds.”
Further, in the past weeks, riots have broken out at two churches in southern Egypt, prompted by Muslim crowds angered by church construction. One riot broke out, near the city of Aswan, even after church officials agreed to a demand by local ultraconservative Muslims, called Salafis, that a cross and bells be removed from the building. Salafi clerics have been increasing their rhetoric against Christians, including accusing them of seeking to spread their faith by building churches.
Habib’s father sums it up: “After the revolution, there are no administration and no officials to go to. The system is lax and there is no supervision from the ministry,” he told AP. “If things were under control, extremists would not have a free hand to act as they wish.”
Recent attacks on churches in southern Egypt also illustrate the heat Christians are under. On Sept. 30, a Muslim mob attacked a church in southern village of Marynab in Aswan province because Christians were working on construction. Church officials had documents showing they had permission to build a church that would replace a previous, run-down one on the same site.
Even before the attack, Muslim protests prompted priests to turn to security officials, who arranged a meeting with local elders and Salafis. In the face of their demands, the priests agreed to take down a cross and bells on the church, according to church officials. Still, after the Christians erected a dome, the mob attacked, setting the church and nearby homes and shops on fire.
Aswan’s governor, Gen. Mustafa Kamel al-Sayyed, further hiked tensions by suggesting to the media that the church was illegal. In response, hundreds of Christians marched in front of the governor’s office last week, demanding those behind the attack be prosecuted and families who lost homes be compensated. Christians also protested in Cairo, cutting off a main avenue in the heart of the capital, demanding the governor’s ouster, until soldiers dispersed them by force.
Days after the Aswan attack, Muslim villagers in the southern province of Sohag tried to storm Saint Girgis church, shouting “No to church construction,” as Christians on rooftops rained stones down on them. The assault was prompted by construction of a church there.
Pray for Christians in Egypt:
-That the rule of law will be re-established in Egypt.
-That a moderate government will come to power that will guarantee the rights and freedoms of Christians there.
-That God will use these events and pressures for the good:
- that Christian pastors will be exhonerated of all wrongdoing,
- that Christians in Egypt will be empowered to reach out to their communities in LOVE, even in the midst of persecution,
- and that God will use these events to prick the conscience of the Muslim extremists and bring them to salvation.