Egyptian Christians Left to Determine Their Way Forward After New Islamist Law Passes

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What way forward under the hastily passed, shari'ah-based constitution?

Egyptian Christians spent this year's Advent season awaiting more than the celebration of Jesus' birth. Christmas Day dawned with Copts still processing the rushed passage of a new Islamist-backed constitution and its implications.

Days before voting began on the hastily completed charter--which, despite only 33 percent turnout and accusations of fraud, passed December 25 with 64 percent of the vote--more than 10,000 Christians gathered at an interdenominational prayer vigil in Cairo's famous "Cave Church."

"Some of us see demonstrations and conspiracies. Some say this country is being destroyed or being stolen," said Andrawus Iskander, a Coptic Orthodox priest from the Nile Delta, to the gathered crowd. "But I say God is coming, and he will not be late. This year will be the best ever for the church. The heavens will open and we will be united. We will be freed from fear and learn to love."

But many Christians fear the worst.

"There will be violent threats coming against Copts, because the whole political scene has become sectarian," said Hani Labib, a Coptic political analyst. "No matter the issue, it is the Copts who are put in the limelight for their opposition [to the Islamist agenda]. Since most are unable to emigrate, this pressure will result in them returning to their isolation within the church."

Many Christians joined liberal activists and hardened revolutionaries to take to the streets prior to the referendum, demonstrating against the proposed constitution. With many others, Christians feared the limitation of rights and freedoms due to the wider scope of shari'ah law and the requirement to consult with unelected religious scholars on legislation.

President Mohamed Morsi's Islamist allies turned the Christian presence into a campaign slogan. They accused the opposition of treason and implied that the vast majority of protestors were Copts

"I say to the church, yes, you share this country with us," said Safwat Hegazi, an Islamist preacher and presidential appointee to the National Council for Human Rights. "But there are red lines, and our red lines are the legitimacy of Dr. Morsi."

He then employed a colloquial, but dangerous expression: "Whoever splashes it with water [discredits it], we will splash him with blood [spill his blood]."

"Morsi has not kept his promises to be a president for all Egyptians when he had a chance to do so, and he is losing credibility," said Ramez Atallah, president of the Bible Society of Egypt. "When the leader is not working for consensus, it makes it very hard for anyone else to do so."

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SOURCE: Christianity Today
Jayson Casper in Cairo
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