Commentary  A people betrayed

How Egypt’s Coptic Christians live in fear

It was early January, and I was on my way to Cairo to visit my family. Nearly a year had gone by since the first uprising, and I was eager to taste the post-Mubarak atmosphere. I was not expecting to find a society transformed by the revolution. In truth, the transition had been painfully slow and turbulent, and better times were far from being realized. What I wanted to know was how the average, non-political Egyptian had been affected. Who would I meet? Egyptians empowered or defeated? Hopeful or despairing?

As I made my way through customs, I was amused to see that the level of chaos had not fallen short of the standard. The air was heavy with cigarette smoke, and inefficiency reigned as disinterested personnel deserted their stations to drink tea and joke around with their fellow employees. Outside the airport, I had to maneuver through a mess of luggage, carts, and little children running and screaming. I tried to read the faces of the people I passed by, but I realized that there was not much to decipher from this scene.

My aunt picked me up, and, as we drove to my grandmother’s house in Heliopolis, I questioned her about her experiences over the past year. “You know, Habibti, things have been quite terrible actually.” Law enforcement had been scant and the police were largely absent. Opportunistic thugs and thieves roamed the streets, and men were forced to stand guard in their neighborhoods to protect their families. I tried to steer the conversation towards the positive aspects of the revolution – the uniting of a people against a common oppressor, their liberation from the shackles of authoritarianism – but she wouldn’t have any of it. “Now that Mubarak is gone, what’s going to happen to us?!”

I come from a Coptic family ; Egyptian Christians form a significant minority in the country and have long been the targets of discrimination and attack. Under Mubarak, the Copts faced many injustices and were relegated to the status of second-class citizens. However, the regime’s suppression of religious extremists offered them some semblance of protection. The ousting of Mubarak saw the return of Islamist fundamentalists to the political scene, leaving the Copts in a more vulnerable state than ever. Islamists now dominate the parliament, and, as a new constitution is being drawn up in their hands, the future for a secular democracy seems bleak.

At my grandmother’s, I met with other family members and discussed the current situation. I had expected to hear stories of hope for a better life. Instead, I was met with despondent cries of fear for the well being of the Coptic community. Danger and misfortune seemed to be lurking around the corner, and prospects of attaining full citizenship rights a distant dream. They struck me as a community betrayed by the democratic process. As the evils of sectarianism linger on, their churches have been bombed and their brethren antagonized. All the while their sufferings have been ignored and their abusers have not been brought to justice.

When we hear “democratic revolution” we imagine the liberation of a people, a push towards greater freedom and autonomy. But, in places where ideology is supreme, one questions whether tyranny reigns under the facade of “democracy”.

I left my homeland with a bitter taste in my mouth. I thought of all the Coptic families that had fled the country after the revolution, and nausea set in at the realization that I, too, would have to find a new home for myself elsewhere. Sandra Gouel is a U3 Philosophy and Political Science student. She can be reached at