The overwhelming majority of the Arab world is Muslim, and so it would seem that the two words on everyone’s lips in that region since January — revolution and democracy — should hinge on the participatory, popular will of that population.
However, a crucial test of the potential gains of the Arab Spring also will rest in the status of the region’s non-Muslim minorities. In this sense, the standing of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority since the Revolution of 25 January — some 8-10 million people, roughly 10-12 percent of the country — warrants the recent global attention that has turned to this community.
So far, the Arab Spring has not been kind to the Copts.
During the peak of euphoria in Tahrir Square in early February, many Egyptian Christians set aside their grievances with the Muslim majority, and the latter their discrimination against the former, to unite in toppling Hosni Mubarak.
However, the protest banners had barely been re-furled when militant Salafi groups, largely an underground movement under Mubarak’s repressive security state and strongly influenced by Wahhabi fundamentalism, made their presence felt. A long-forming pattern of anti-Christian violence has since increased across the country, often prompted by intolerant Salafi preachers and perpetrated by local Muslims intent on reminding Copts of their second-class status.
— On March 4, a mob of Muslims in the village of Sol rioted against Copts and their property, angered by controversy over a rumored romance between a local Christian man and Muslim woman. The mob sent Christian residents running to their homes for safety before it burned the town’s main church to the ground (reportedly after looters mistook Coptic-language liturgy for books of black magic). Two Copts were killed in the violence.
— On Sept.30, a Salafi imam incited a group of several thousand Muslims in the village of al-Marinab to march on a local church after Friday prayers. The Christians’ offense: They had built a dome on their more than 70-year-old church after receiving all necessary approval from the Aswan governor. The mob attacked and burned the church with impunity. The governor, while claiming he had given no such permission, implicitly sanctioned the mob’s actions.
Source: Baptist Press | Kurt J. Werthmuller/Hudson Institute