In a Jesuit-run
magazine in 1957, Rev. J.J.W. Murphy recalled
a meeting with a Christian priest in Egypt ten years prior. "I was surprised
then at what he told me of Muslim hostility to Christianity and of the
possibility that persecution would break out," Murphy wrote. "Now I know that
his pessimism was well-founded."
More than six
decades later, sectarian tensions in Egypt are alive and well. At least six
Egyptians lost their lives to religious violence over the weekend: Five
Christians and Muslims were
killed on April 5 in the town of Khosous; and clashes broke out again on April 7 at a
Cairo cathedral, where mourners had gathered for the funeral of the
Christian men, resulting in the death of a Christian man.
The April 7
clashes will only heighten Christians' fears of the Muslim Brotherhood-led
government: The Egyptian police seemed to join the assault against them, firing
tear gas at the cathedral as Muslim youths hurled rocks in the same direction.
From inside the cathedral compound, Christian men threw
Molotov cocktails and let off fireworks at the crowd outside.
There were a few
bright spots amidst the otherwise grim scene. As the clashes raged, the New
York Times' Kareem Fahim tweeted a
picture of an Egyptian man holding up a Quran and a cross as a sign of
religious coexistence. And protesters eventually arrived outside the cathedral,
chanting "Christians and Muslims are
Mohamed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, condemned the violence, saying
that he considered any attack on the cathedral "an attack on myself." But
Mohamed Soudan, the foreign relations secretary for the Brotherhood's political
party in Alexandria, struck a very different note: In an e-mail to
a reporter at Daily News Egypt, he blamed
the Copts for the violence, writing that
they had gathered at the cathedral to "prepare for civil war."
Egypt is a long
way from the days when Muslims and Christians united in Tahrir Square to
protest against Hosni Mubarak's rule. In October 2011, Egyptian security forces
attacked a demonstration outside of the Maspero television building, resulting
in the death of 27 Egyptians. And following the clashes outside Cairo's
presidential palace in December, Islamist figures were quick to accuse Christians
of playing a leading role in the violence. Hardline preacher Safwat Hegazy had
unambiguous message for the Copts: "[T]here are red
lines. Our red line is the legitimacy of Dr. Mohamed Morsi. Whoever splashes it
with water, we will splash with blood."
With the rise of
these new threats, questions have arisen about the future of the Christian
minority in Egypt. It is not a new issue: As far back as the 1940s, Christians
were wondering about their community's survival. "[The Copt] will bow before
the storm and hope that some of his people will survive it, if not himself."
Murphy ended his essay. "He will not leave Egypt."