How Do We Understand the Positions of Egypt’s Coptic Christians in All This Coverage?

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Coptic Christians Support Mubarak
A delegation of Egyptian Coptic Christian supporters of President Hosni Mubarak march during a demonstration in Cairo’s Muhandisin district on February 2, 2011. (photo: Patrick Baz/AFP/Getty Images)

"He’s the best of the worst. Whoever comes after him might want to destroy us."
— Sameh Joseph, a Copt who works at the Patriarch of the Orthodox Christians Church in Alexandria, Egypt.

Last Thursday, the Los Angeles Times ran this article on the mixed reactions of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. According to the report, many Copts say they dislike President Hosni Mubarak but fear the alternative even more, the political leader who might replace him. People like Samya Hammoui, a woman who lost two sisters and two nieces in the January 1st bombing of a church in Alexandria, fears the situation wouldn’t improve with Mubarak’s ouster, “If one of the Islamic extremists took over, things for us would be much worse.”

I sense my lack of understanding of the complexity of the story, especially with all the loud voices shouting freedom and democracy and calling for Mubarak’s ouster. And, since I’m in the religious journalism business, I’m trying to understand what this means for Egypt’s minority religious community, which comprises more than 10 percent of the country’s population.

As I consume a bounty of news reports and tweets from the streets about Egypt and demonstrations in Tahrir Square, I sense that alternative viewpoints like the story above are being drowned out by events occurring “inside the bubble” of Tahrir Square.

Take, for example, the photos like the ones below. These stories inundated my news feeds yesterday: Egypt’s Copts and Muslims standing side by side, crucifixes and sacred texts in hands held high, as they call for Mubarak’s removal. They are striking and hopeful and needed. But these stories may be part of the picture that overwhelms the LA Times piece above.

Coptic Christian and Muslim Women Protest at Tahrir Square in Front of Egyptian Flag
An Egyptian Coptic Christian and a Muslim woman pause in front of their national flag during a joint communal gathering of anti-government protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square on February 06, 2011. Writing on the flag reads in Arabic, “Christian and Muslim = Egypt”. (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Egypt's Coptic Christians and Muslims in Tahrir Square
Calling for the end to President Hosni Mubarak’s government, Egypt’s Coptic Christians and Muslims raise a cross and a Qur’an on February 6, 2011 in Tahrir Square in central Cairo. (photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)

Much like most other conversations on this program, I’m constantly reminded that there is no one truth in matters of identity, the heart, and the future of one’s community. The point is to keep looking and piecing together the many parts to this story, and the many other stories out there.

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