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03 March 2024

Christians join Muslims in plea for change in Egypt

Egyptian anti-government protesters, a Christian (L) and a Muslim woman stand together in Cairo's Tahrir square, as Egyptians gather for the 12th consecutive day calling for the end to President Hosni Mubarak's regime. (AFP)

By Agencies

Shoulder-to-shoulder with their Muslim compatriots, Egypt's minority Coptic Christians are flocking to Cairo's central square to join the call for the swift resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.

"Too many Christians died in Mubarak's era. Leave Egypt now!" read the banner of Nader, a 23-year-old Copt who joined on Saturday the Tahrir square demonstrations to demand regime-change.

"The persecutions against the Christians increased in the last 10 years," said Nader in a reference to the suicide bomber who killed 21 people outside a church in the northern city of Alexandria on New Year's Eve.

"The only thing that Mubarak is doing is to try to hide what happened and this is not the solution," added the young Copt, whose community accounts for up to 10 percent of Egypt's 80 million people and is the biggest Christian minority in the Middle East.

Pope Shenuda III, Egypt's top Coptic Christian, told demonstrators on Friday night to take into account "the concessions" made by the government after more than a week of demonstrations at Tahrir square.

"He told us we should not go to protests" against the president, which kicked-off January 25 and have drawn hundreds of thousands out to the streets and left more than 300 people dead, according to UN estimates.

"But we come to the demonstrations regardless because we want it to be recorded that Christians were here," said Ihab, 41, returning from the square.

"Jesus will grant us a better life. Leave now, Mubarak, so we can enjoy it," read his banner.

Nader and Ihab joined the crowd at Tahrir square which has become a mirror of the country's diverse population running the gamut from secularists to Islamists crossing over the Christians.

But Ihab downplays the possibility of an Islamist takeover should Mubarak's government collapse under popular pressure.

"The Muslim Brothers would be a disaster. But there are other options in Egypt. Not only Mubarak or the Muslim brothers," he said.

The banner of another Coptic protester returning from the square took a stab at Mubarak's son in a bid to shatter the widespread notion that Copts generally support the president who has gripped onto power for 30 years.

"Gamal, tell your father that the Copts hate you," read the sign.

A leading figure in the Coptic community, the Egyptian telecommunications tycoon Naguib Sawiris, also spoke out last Saturday saying the protests heralded "good news" for Egypt and "that everyone wants democracy."

Some Muslim demonstrators at Tahrir square showed solidarity with their Christian brethren. Ahmed Shimi, 47, raised a banner adorned with a Christian cross, the Islamic crescent and the declaration "Muslims plus Christians equal Egypt."

"We don't want differences between Muslims and Christians. We believe that we are all Egyptians," Shimi said.

"Mubarak wants to sell the idea to the United States and Europe that we have a problem in Egypt with the Christians and that he is the right guy to address it. But it's not true."

Western countries raised their concern after the last attacks against the Egyptian Coptic community. The US Senate passed a resolution condemning the December 31 attacks in Alexandria and called on Mubarak to guarantee the religious minority's security.

Blast in Egypt church near Gaza border-witnesses
An explosion hit a church in Rafah, near the Egyptian border with the Gaza Strip, but the source and the scale of the blast were not immediately clear, witnesses said on Saturday.

Witnesses said they saw several armed men around the church but it was not clear whether they were involved. Smoke rose from the Mari Gerges church, which was empty of people, they added.

Egyptian officials had earlier blamed the Gaza-based Army of Islam for a New Year's Day church bombing in Alexandria that killed 23 people. The group denied the charge.

Saboteurs blew up a gas pipeline in northern Egypt overnight, disrupting flows to Israel and Jordan.