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As Egypt's presidential election presents extraordinary challenges, GlobalPost offers this continuing series to shed light on how the country will move forward under its first-ever civilian head of state and how the soon-to-be-drafted constitution will protect civil rights in a new Egypt. 

Crosses on the arms of Egyptian Copts
Young Egyptian Coptic men display their Christian tattoos in October 2011. These tattoos are a rite of passage within the community and the pain felt while receiving them is seen as a small taste of the pain they believe Christ endured during the crucifixion. (Lauren E. Bohn/GlobalPost)

State of fear: Egypt's Copts in peril

The country's Christian minority losing hope of winning rights.

CAIRO — Just through the windows of a Coptic Christian hospital was a perfect portrait of Egypt’s complex religious landscape: Church spires with Coptic crosses reaching into a purple-and-pink-stained sunset were framed against the crescent of a mosque’s taller minaret from which the Islamic call to prayer carried on the hot city air. Inside the hospital's white rooms, five Copts lay recovering in white beds while families walked from doorway to doorway, talking with each other as if strolling down their neighborhood street, which wasn’t far away.

They talked of fear and uncertainty on this day last month, feelings that have lingered weeks after the latest attack on the Coptic community: The army’s killing of 27 people protesting the recent burning of a Coptic Christian center in Upper Egypt and the refusal of the ruling military council, Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), to be held accountable for its use of violence against civilians.

Related: The story of a 17-year-old Copt beaten to death by Muslim classmates

On Saturday, demonstrations against the anti-Coptic violence at Maspero were held across Egypt and at Egyptian embassies in America, Canada and Europe where many Copts have steadily migrated over several generations. On Friday, Christians and Muslims marched past the hospital where the wounded were treated and into Tahrir Square. The demonstrations reflect mounting fears in Egypt’s Coptic community and its Diaspora that after the pro-democracy uprising of earlier this year the predominantly Muslim Egyptian society seems as indifferent to the Christian minority’s concerns as ever.

INSIDE THE HOSPITAL, WHISPERS OF FEAR
 
In the dimly lit hallways of the hospital, answers were hard to find about the Oct. 9 killings at Maspero, the name of the government TV building around which the Copts demonstrated to draw attention to the attack on the Coptic center and what many Copts feel is a rising culture of intolerance. .

“We feel as if we have no rights here.”
~Emad Haleem, a 25-year-old Copt

In the hospital ward here, reporters visiting with these Copts were told not to ask about "the accident." Hospital managers hovered by the doors. Yet when nurses left the room, patients whispered of conspiracies and expressed their fears. .

Moreed Khairollos, from the poor Cairo area of Imbaba, lay in bed. His wife said she still has a shirt with burn marks left from two bullets that were fired through his back.

“But they reported it as stabs. They’re protecting SCAF,” she said, referring to Egypt’s de facto ruling military council. “But no one is protecting us.”

Along the Nile, Copts’ anger has been renewed at a critical time for Egypt, so close to its first parliamentary elections since Hosni Mubarak was kicked out. The Oct. 9 Maspero massacre struck the same discriminatory chords for Copts as did the fatal bombing of an Alexandria church in January and the burning of an Imbaba church in May. Though all of Egypt’s future is uncertain as it trundles toward democratic changes, Copts fear that their fate could be disastrous if sectarian violence continues.

“What happened was a tragedy, no doubt,” Gen. Mahmud Hegazy, a member of the military council, said in a rare TV interview. “But people should not point out that these are Coptic casualties. They are Egyptian casualties.”
 
Those “casualties” are a reminder to Copts that they are fighting for equality, but as some pro-democracy activists point out the military appears to be as brutal to Muslims as to Christians when it comes to putting down demonstrations.

Reportedly, all but one of the 27 people killed on Oct. 9 were Christian. And they weren’t the only people hurt that night. Along with the five Copts hospitalized on the third floor, a single Muslim patient, Ahmed Abdel Haleem, was recovering from being shot in the leg while he was trying to help protesters he saw while taking a walk.

His sister and mother sat in the corner of the room with the Koran and fresh bread, near the window that looked out on the Cairo cityscape of the crosses and the crescent. Since he was taken to the hospital, he has been visited by not only his Muslim family but by Christians

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/egypt/111113/state-fear-egypts-copts-peril