My prayer: That my Egyptian brethren in Christ Jesus will show bravery in the face of the storm clouds that are forming right in front of their eyes.
Reporting from Cairo—Fears and worries murmur like prayers beneath the hammered crosses of the Church of the Virgin Mary.
"The whole country will collapse," says Shenouda Nasri.
"I'm trying to get my family out," says Samir Ramsis.
"This is the Islamists' time," says George Saied.
A caretaker sweeps the stones, a woman slips into a pew. But these days Egypt's minority Coptic Christians are finding little serenity. Islamist political candidates, including puritanical Salafis, are dominating parliamentary elections. Sectarianism is intensifying and the patriotic veneer that unified Egyptians in overthrowing longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak is threatened by ultraconservative Muslim clerics whose divisive voices had been suppressed by the state for decades.
"Our goal is to achieve an Islamic caliphate with Islamic sharia rules," Mohamed Zoghbi, a hard-line Salafi preacher, said this year on TV. "If Egypt becomes a caliphate, then the Middle East and Arab countries will follow our path. All Muslim youth should strive and die to build this caliphate even over their own bodies."
Copts are now anxiously watching a theological and political battle sharpen between Muslim parties that are expected to win at least 60% of parliamentary seats after the final round of elections in January. The struggle between the Salafis and the more moderate and popular Muslim Brotherhood will define an emerging political Islam and how deeply religion will be ingrained in public life.
That unresolved question is one of the most contentious in Islam. It has been energized as uprisings across the region have upended despots, leaving fertile ground for untested political voices that would have been unimaginable just months ago. It is a seminal moment for an Arab world that appears, at least for now, determined to reinvent failed secular governments through what clerics regard as the purifying prism of Islam.
"The Islamists have been unleashed," says Nasri, a pharmacist hoping to follow the lead of tens of thousands of Copts who have left Egypt this year. "You're talking about no rights for women. No rights for Coptic Christians. They'll make us more of a minority. It'll be like living centuries ago." (Read more)