Local Coptic Christians fear extremist takeover
Farah Farouque February 2, 2011
THE Melbourne head of the Coptic Church in Australia said his congregation, who have strong family links to Egypt, had been praying for peace.
”We are supporting the right of people to protest peacefully but we are fearful that extremist groups will take over the country – this would be a disaster for Egypt and for the Copts,” said Bishop Anba Suriel, who is based in diocesan headquarters in suburban Donvale. Melbourne has nine Coptic churches and two schools.
Copts make up the largest Christian community in the Middle East and constitute about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 80 million people. Copts lay claim to being direct descendants of the pharaohs, but co-exist uneasily with the majority Muslim population.
Advertisement: Story continues below Last month there was a violent expression of sectarianism when a bombing in the port-city of Alexandria, where the Coptic pope is based, killed 23 and wounded 97 people leaving a New Year’s Mass.
Bishop Suriel said that while the system in Egypt was ”corrupt”, the concern was who would take power.
In Egypt, members of the church hierarchy have emerged as reluctant supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, fearing his departure would leave them more vulnerable as a minority community.
The 2006 census determined there were nearly 20,000 Copts nationally, but Bishop Suriel said the community in Australia approached 80,000.
”People are worried about their families. The images coming out of Egypt are very frightening,” he said.
These fears are very well founded, I believe, and not just a concern for Egypt, but Tunisia and Lebanon and for other Arab countries touched by this turmoil.
It is very hard to know how things will go, however. There are many comparing it to Iran – but in this internet/twitter age, are the young people who are driving the revolution necessarily going to be attracted by a regime which, although Islamic, is more restrictive than the regime under which they currently live?
Also, I find myself asking what the events of last Christmas mean against the background of the current turmoil. Not only the bombing itself, but then the reaction of many Egyptian citizens, as it was reported they formed a “human shield” to protect Christians going to worship. Then keeping in mind the reaction of the Egyptian government and the Al-Azhar University to Pope Benedict’s call for religious freedom and tolerance, what does the fall of that government mean?’
I have no answers to these questions. I don’t think anyone does. Hence, I guess, the fear factor. And hence the fact that the fear is well founded.