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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. 

State of fear: Egypt's Copts in peril

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

are back to normal.
But in some places south of Cairo, religious tension is so thick that Muslims and Christians can’t even sit in the same room together.
Not far away, on the outskirts of Minya, a small town knows the rift between Christians and Muslims as no one else does. All 30,000 of Nazlet Ebeid’s residents are Copts, despite being within walking distance of a village where Muslims live, according to those who live off the sandy streets.
The men dress in faded blue jalabiya that match the faint, blue tattoos of crosses on their hands, which are covered in dirt from labor. They spend their days in the dry, desert heat, surrounded by posters and spray-painted images of the Virgin Mary gazing down at them serenely, on garages for auto shops and makeshift convenience stores alike. They say they could live with Muslims, but only if the government doesn’t interfere — which they say is sadly not the case now.

Children play outside the Maris Girgis church in the all-Christian village of Nezlet Ebeid in Minya, Upper Egypt.
(Lauren E. Bohn/GlobalPost)

Nazlet Ebeid’s residents say they are afraid, that they live every day with worry. “I have a feeling of, I might be next after Maspero,” said Eid Adlee, who was selling snacks.
The head of Nazlet Ebeid’s church is Father Yuhanna Bushra, a slow-walking, patient priest. Bushra denied any sort of tension between Christians and Muslims, and he claimed that reporters needed permission from higher, holier authorities to talk to anyone in the town. When he was asked what the residents think of the way that Egypt’s ruling council has handled religious tension, he ordered other staff members in the room not to answer and smiled coyly. “Can’t you see it? Everything is on television,” he said.
Down the street is Falajallah, a village where Christians are a majority, though some Muslims live there — and Muslims surround them. There, the Copts tell stories of Muslims shooting at a priest’s home and trying to burn his car. They say the Muslims call them “infidels” and charge that they have no place in Egypt. And during and after meals, at cafes, outside, wherever, the main topic of conversation — sometimes the only one — is fear of being attacked.
Their agitation has trickled down to the village’s children, even as they frolic in the sand and dirt in their soccer jerseys. They are scared after learning that a 17-year-old Coptic boy was beaten to death by two Muslims in nearby Mellawi. “I live in fear,” Mina Ashraf, a 14-year-old boy with a normally wide smile, said deliberately as his friends surrounded him.

Constructive ways to move ahead for the Copts remain elusive. The principal of Falajallah’s school throws his hands up and says that “we do not know what to do.” Mussad is trying in vain to unite potential Coptic leaders with Catholics and moderate Muslims.
“These days, they have nothing,” said Father Paul, a Catholic priest at St. Teresa church, right outside the Shubra square where the Maspero march began. “They are short on money, living on hopes and promises, promises that are never fulfilled.”
After General Hegazy was interviewed about the Maspero killings in the TV interview, a candidate for parliament in the Copt-heavy Shubra area, Mona Makram Ebeid, was asked if Copts’ questions were answered sufficiently. “I don’t represent Copts,” she replied. “I represent Egyptians.”

Maspero has surfaced as a scar on a post-revolution Egypt that was supposed to be better than Hosni Mubarak. At a time when the former president is almost universally hated, Copts say their religious protection was stronger during the ousted president’s regime. “Somehow, there was protection, but now, no security,” said Samia Ibrahim, the aunt of the 17-year-old boy killed in Mellawi. Many Copts were initially reluctant to take part in Egypt's uprising, fearing marginalization as Islam became more prevalent. Just how safe Copts were under Mubarak is an open question, given the sectarian violence and widespread suspicion among Christians that