Connect to share and comment

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. 

State of fear: Egypt's Copts in peril

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

whom he doesn’t even know.
 
“We’ve been brothers and friends throughout our lives,” Abdel Haleem said of Christians and Muslims, as the Islamic evening call to prayer blared into his room from the minaret’s speakers. “I’m glad that I did something good.”
 

Ahmed Haleem is the single Muslim patient at the Coptic hospital. He was taking a walk near his office when he heard gunfire that night at Maspero. When he saw bloody protestors, he says he ran to help them and was shot in the leg by the army. His mother and sister spend nearly all day in his room.
(Lauren E. Bohn/GlobalPost)

While he spoke softly, the organizer of the Maspero protest, Evon Mussad, rode into Haleem’s room in a wheelchair. She is an engaging powerhouse and Coptic community organizer who was hit in the back by the butt of a gun by an officer who called her an “infidel” at the protest. She introduced herself to Abdel Haleem and asked if he needed anything.

“Thank you,” she told him, referring to the risk of violence he took and the subsequent injuries he suffered to support the Copts in their protest.
 
Thousands joined in the October 9 march in a rare show of strength. After soldiers shot at and ran over Copts, which was captured on video and aired on satellite television stations, the hospital was flung into chaos. Some unconscious patients were initially left for dead in the morgue, which was built to hold three bodies at once. After it overflowed with corpses, the hospital decided to expand it so it can hold eight.

“Just in case anything might happen,” Sabr Atta, the overnight shift manager at the hospital, said outside the under-construction morgue one night as another call to prayer swept through the hospital’s dark outdoor corridors.
 
Some of the Copts brought to the hospital to be treated that night left almost immediately because they feared that they would be tracked down — by extremist Muslims, perhaps, or by soldiers. The demonstration in Cairo had confirmed Copts’ longstanding — and debilitating — fear: When they mobilize, they are struck down, even killed. In dozens of conversations, Copts blamed both extremist Muslims and Egypt’s ruling body, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which not only controls the country, but is at the helm of Egypt's transition.

The term ‘Maspero’ now refers to military abuse more than it does to the actual name for the TV building and the neighborhood around it. For Egypt’s Christians, ‘Maspero’ is a foreboding sign of the grim consequences of organizing.

 
Copts, followers of an Eastern Orthodox rite from the 4th century, are Egypt’s biggest religious minority. While there are no official census figures, it is estimated that Copts represent about 5 percent of Egypt’s population, or roughly 4 million people. For 1700 years they have resisted efforts to be converted to Islam, and on Jan. 25, they joined hands with Muslims, believing that a revolution that could topple a tyrant might also bring them the rights they deserve.
 
But now they fear that the revolution that swept from Tahrir Square to all corners of Egypt has passed them over.
 
‘CAN’T YOU SEE IT?’
 

Mussad, 53, struggles to stand, and she struggles to encourage her fellow Copts to stand up for their rights. Outside of the church, Copts have no formal structural organization. The Maspero protest was an anomaly, made possible by anger over the police’s inaction in a case in which a church burned, and fresh resentment against the army after soldiers broke up a previous sit-in. But when she was asked who the leader is for the Copts, Mussad just shrugged and pointed at herself flippantly.
 
She rallied Copts to walk from a busy intersection in Cairo’s largely Coptic Shubra district to Maspero. Since the gathering, no event has come close to rivaling the size and intensity of the Oct. 9 demonstration. Shopkeepers at Shubra Square say that while a few dozen protesters have showed up sporadically on a few days since Maspero, things

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