Tahrir Muslims and Christians Demonstrate Together
By Antonio Rodriguez, AFP
A Muslim holding the Koran (top L) and a Coptic Christian holding a cross are carried through opposition supporters in Tahrir Square in Cairo February 6, 2011.
CAIROâ€”Shoulder-to-shoulder with their Muslim compatriots, Egyptâ€™s minority Coptic Christians are flocking to Cairoâ€™s central square to join the call for the swift resignation of President Hosni Mubarak.
â€œToo many Christians died in Mubarakâ€™s era. Leave Egypt now!â€ read the banner of Nader, a 23-year-old Copt who joined on Saturday the Tahrir square demonstrations to demand regime-change.
â€œThe persecutions against the Christians increased in the last 10 years,â€ said Nader in a reference to the suicide bomber who killed 21 people outside a church in the northern city of Alexandria on New Yearâ€™s Eve.
â€œThe only thing that Mubarak is doing is to try to hide what happened and this is not the solution,â€ added the young Copt, whose community accounts for up to 10 percent of Egyptâ€™s 80 million people and is the biggest Christian minority in the Middle East.
Pope Shenuda III, Egyptâ€™s top Coptic Christian, told demonstrators on Friday night to take into account â€œthe concessionsâ€ made by the government after more than a week of demonstrations at Tahrir square.
â€œHe told us we should not go to protestsâ€ 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.
â€œBut we come to the demonstrations regardless because we want it to be recorded that Christians were here,â€ said Ihab, 41, returning from the square.
â€œJesus will grant us a better life. Leave now, Mubarak, so we can enjoy it,â€ read his banner.
Nader and Ihab joined the crowd at Tahrir square which has become a mirror of the countryâ€™s diverse population running the gamut from secularists to Islamists crossing over the Christians.
But Ihab downplays the possibility of an Islamist takeover should Mubarakâ€™s government collapse under popular pressure.
â€œThe Muslim Brothers would be a disaster. But there are other options in Egypt. Not only Mubarak or the Muslim brothers,â€ he said.
The banner of another Coptic protester returning from the square took a stab at Mubarakâ€™s son in a bid to shatter the widespread notion that Copts generally support the president who has gripped onto power for 30 years.
â€œGamal, tell your father that the Copts hate you,â€ 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 â€œgood newsâ€ for Egypt and â€œthat everyone wants democracy.â€
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 â€œMuslims plus Christians equal Egypt.â€
â€œMubarak 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 itâ€™s not true.â€
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 minorityâ€™s security.