Agenzia Fides report - About 500 Copts marched yesterday through the streets of downtown Cairo protesting after the outbreak of fire in the church of Aswan in southern Egypt, demanding the resignation of the local governor. The Governor of Aswan, Mustafa al-Sayd, had said that the structure had been built without the necessary permits. According to the Coptic the governor’s words instigated some Muslim extremists in the area and these set fire to the place of Christian worship.
"In rural areas of Upper Egypt the law of the strongest often prevails and the police take a partisan position", said Fr. Giovanni Esti, a Comboni missionary who works in Cairo in an interview with Fides. The missionary places this episode "in the pre-election climate (elections are scheduled on Nov. 28), as the city are covered with posters on which there are often references to religion. On behalf of fundamentalist groups there is a widespread idea that Islam is at risk and therefore to vote for Muslim parties means defending them. This encourages episodes of fanatism"
"The problem which is mostly perceived is economical", continues Fr. John. "The country from this point of view is blocked. Until there is a stable government, foreign companies will not return to invest in Egypt, creating jobs. If a solution is not found, forms of protest are at risk that can include different groups, including fundamentalists, but this is due to the desperation of people and has nothing to do with the religious aspect".
According to the Egyptian Union of Human Rights (EUHR), a Coptic NGO, about 100,000 Egyptians belonging to the Coptic religion have fled the country since March 2011 because of religious persecution. "I have no way of confirming whether these findings are real or not", said Fr. Giovanni. "This is surely an argument which is at the center of the debate in the Coptic community. Copts with whom we have contact say that in their communities everyone tries to escape abroad or obtain a dual citizenship. It is true that there are episodes of intolerance. For example, a Christian girl who walks open-faced in the streets of a working class neighborhood often becomes the object of insults from passers-by".
"On the other hand – continues the missionary - it is necessary to say that the Egyptian Christian world is hypersensitive about episodes of persecution, at times it also tends to exaggerate. Certainly there are forms of discrimination, linked more to the social aspect than strictly religious, but I think that on some occasions facts tend to be exaggerated. It is also true that for some Christians to declare religious persecution can be seen as an opportunity to obtain an entry visa to a Western country".
Fr. Giovanni, however acknowledges that "incidents of discrimination, unlike the recent past, are now reported by the media", and concludes: "I do not know if these acts are more frequent than before. In the past they happened, but were not published by the press, remaining episodes known only at a local level. Now there is more attention and even episodes such as the Church of Aswan, which did not cause victims, are brought to public attention, and this is certainly a good thing". (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 05/10/2011)