For Copts, a persecuting dictator was preferable to the Islamist mob.
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Visit any Coptic church in the United States and you immediately recognize the newcomers. You see it in their eyes, hear it in their broken English, sense it in how they cling to the church in search of the familiar. They have come here escaping a place they used to call home, where their ancestors had lived for centuries.
Waves of Copts have come here from Egypt before, to escape Gamal Abdel Nasser's nationalizations or the growing Islamist tide. Their country's transformation wasn't sudden, but every year brought more public Islamization. As the veil spread, Coptic women felt increasingly different, alien and marked. Verbal abuse came from schoolteachers, bystanders in the bus station who noticed the cross on a wrist, or commentators on state television.
But life was generally bearable. Hosni Mubarak crushed the Islamist insurgency of the 1980s and '90s. He was no friend to the Copts, but neither was he foe. His police often turned a blind eye when Coptic homes and shops were attacked by mobs, and the courts never punished the perpetrators--but the president wasn't an Islamist. He even interfered sometimes to give permission to build a church, or to make Christmas a national holiday.
To be sure, Copts were excluded from high government positions. There were no Coptic governors, intelligence officers, deans of schools, or CEOs of government companies. Until 2005, Copts needed presidential approval to build a new church or even build a bathroom in an existing one. Even with approval, state security often blocked construction, citing security concerns.
Those concerns were often real. Mobs could mobilize against Copts with the slightest incitement--rumor of a romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, a church being built, reports of a Christian having insulted Islam. The details varied but the results didn't: homes burned, shops destroyed, Christians leaving villages, sometimes dead bodies. The police would arrive late and force a reconciliation session between perpetrators and victims during which everything would be forgiven and no one punished. What pained the Copts most was that the attackers were neighbors, co-workers and childhood friends.
Then came last year's revolution. Copts were never enthusiastic about it, perhaps because centuries of persecution taught that the persecuting dictator was preferable to the mob. He could be bought off, persuaded to hold back or pressured by outside forces. With the mob you stood no chance. Some younger Copts were lured by the promise of a liberal Egypt, but the older generation knew better.
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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal