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Coptic Christians in Egypt Fear for the Future Under Islamist Government

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As a Coptic Christian, 24-year-old George Gerges said signs over the past year haven’t been good. This winter, The Muslim Brotherhood and ultraconservative Salafi parties won almost 75 percent of the seats in Egypt’s parliamentary elections. Last October, more than 20 Christians were killed during a demonstration demanding equal rights. And not too long ago, several Christian churches were burned during clashes between Christians and Muslims.

“When we live together, without any political factors, we live in peace,” Gerges said. “But when religion becomes an issue, they burn churches, they burn houses, they kill Christians. There’s a bad history.”

Gerges is afraid that Christians will be forced to pay a special religious tax, that Christian women will be forced to wear the Islamic veil, and that alcohol will be banned.

He works at a gift shop in the oldest part of the city, called Coptic Cairo. The community, with its seven churches, has been here since Roman times. Copts trace their faith back to the days of Jesus, when their patron saint, St. Mark, proselytized here.

Coptic Cairo is blocked off from the rest of the city by a big steel gate, and by Egyptian police with automatic weapons. It’s nothing new. It’s been like this for years. But before, Islamist groups didn’t dominate the country’s parliament. Gerges said people voted for them because they were afraid that Egypt was losing its “Muslim Identify.”

“The people elected the Islamic parties because they are afraid for the religion,” Gerges said. “They are afraid for the identity of Egypt. The Islamic identify of Egypt. The Muslims would like to live alone, like Saudi Arabia, in a closed community, only for Muslims. And that will not happen.”

Gerges said Copts were here long before the Muslim conquests of the 7th centur

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