Cairo, Egypt – As clashes between anti-government protesters and Egyptian police intensified on Jan. 28, some Coptic Orthodox Christians disregarded their church’s call for peaceful non-involvement – in hopes that the possible abdication of President Hosni Mubarak could advance the cause of their freedom.
Professor Emad Shahin, a political scientist at the University of Notre Dame, specializes in Islamic affairs and has been monitoring the Egyptian situation closely. He told CNA that many Coptic Christians were joining with Muslims to express their frustration with three decades of authoritarian rule.
“The different statements that called for today’s demonstrations were calling on participants to come ‘from the mosques and the churches,’ to go to public squares,” Professor Shahin explained. “We have seen evidence that some Copts have been participating in the demonstrations.”
The protesters, he said, “need an end to corruption. They need the rule of law. They call for freedoms, and dignity – for social justice, and of course, for democracy.”
Officially, however, “the Egyptian Church is taking a separate side – it’s not really participating, or encouraging its members to participate in the events.”
The unprecedented protests have brought hundreds of thousands of Egyptians into the streets since Jan. 25, prompting President Mubarak to deploy security forces and shut down the means of communication – including internet access, text messaging and phone service – within the country.
At least 26 people have already been reported dead, although some government troops have allegedly refused to act against protesters. As of Jan. 28, the president was holding his ground, while acknowledging a number of economic and political grievances and demanding the resignation of his cabinet.
“This is an uprising calling for profound changes,” Shahin said. “It has narrowed down the options for the Egyptian regime: either change, or leave.”
Professor Shahin mentioned a number of statements coming from officials of the Coptic Church –including its leader, Pope Shenouda III – asking Copts not to participate in the demonstrations. They were urged, instead, to attend church services and pray for the peace and the well-being of their country.
But for many Coptic Christians, the prospect of a future without Mubarak – notwithstanding the uncertainty about who would replace him – held more appeal than the Coptic Pope’s call for restraint…
Who knows what will come to pass… Perhaps it’ll work out to be a matter of better the devil you know that the devil you don’t?