WCC INTERVIEW: Could “Arab spring” turn into “Chri stian winter”?
- World Council of Churches - Feature
COULD “ARAB SPRING” TURN INTO “CHRISTIAN WINTER”?
For immediate release: 08 December 2011
Churches in Egypt are praying and helping migrants, who flee home due to
political turmoil, violence and uncertain future. There is a great need to
develop stable democratic societies if the “Arab spring” is to bear fruits.
Or else it might turn into an “Arab winter” with religious minorities at the
risk of persecution.
David Victor R. Youssef expressed this concern at the World Council of
Churches (WCC) Global Ecumenical Network on Migration meeting taking place
in Beirut, Lebanon from 5-7 December, organized by the WCC office for Just
and Inclusive Communities (Link:
http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=e369ba8fc71ce1444bd5 ) and hosted by
the Middle East Council of Churches (Link:
Youssef works for the Coptic Evangelical Organization for Social Services
and was interviewed by Naveen Qayyum, the WCC staff writer.
What is the political situation in Egypt after the “Arab spring”? And how is
it resulting in migration?
This year Egypt has witnessed many political, social, cultural and religious
changes. Yet this is not the end of struggles in Egypt. The Egyptian
revolution, which followed the Tunisian one, has led to many uprisings in
the region, and that we refer to as “Arab Spring”.
From the Gulf to the ocean, Arabs are finally fighting for their freedom
against dictators. While they celebrate the dramatic political changes,
these changes are accompanied by a state of instability. This instability
has forced poor people to migrate to safe countries searching for better
Despite there being relatively less turmoil in Egypt than in some other
countries, many people have moved to escape from violence. Similarly many
Egyptians working in other countries returned to Egypt, having to face
unemployment, poor economic conditions and security threats.
However, as a reaction to radical Islamic groups rising after the collapse
of the security apparatus, many Egyptians, especially Copts, preferred to
migrate to the West.
Can you explain the recent political developments in Egypt?
The major development in Egypt is the ousting of the former dictatorial
regime. Now, the Egyptians are full of hope to push their country into true
However, there are many factors that frustrate the Egyptians. This includes
the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) being too slow in leaving
power in favour of a civilian regime. Many protesters have demanded to
accelerate this transitional period.
The rise of radical Islamic groups after decades of oppression by the former
regime is also a concern. Now, these groups are asking to share in
monitoring the new Egypt. These political groups, like Al Ekhwan al Muslmūn,
Al Salafi-oun and Al Ja-ma’a Al Eslamiyya, now (after the first round of
elections) have more than 40 percent of seats in the legislature.
Despite the calls for preventing symbols of the former regime, the SCAF and
the government have not taken any true action in this regard. Thus, many
members of the dissolved National Democratic Party have formed new political
parties and are running for the current parliamentary elections.
The partial failure of liberal powers in gaining a majority in the first
stage of current parliamentary elections is also a setback. This has given
birth to a state of uncertainty, which formulates a transitional period
without any clear road map.
How is this situation affecting Christians in Egypt?
As a result of the security absence, Copts have faced increasing violence
and sectarian tensions, which resulted in the burning of some churches such
as Atfih, Embaba and Aswan.
In the unfortunate incident on 9 October more than 30 Christians were killed
while protesting against the burning of the church in Aswan.
The rise of radical groups in Egypt has opened chances of establishing an
Islamic state and implementing the Islamic laws (Shari’a). As a justifiable
reaction, the Christians who already live with a sense of insecurity become
more isolated in church communities.
This has also triggered a wave of emigration among Christians, the major
reason for which is the political uncertainty in the country. They fear that
if the SCAF continues to rule, Egypt will be under the same military
governance like the last 60 years.
They also fear that if the radical agenda of political Islamic groups is
realized, for example by developing an Islamic state, the Christians will
not find a place in this state.
The deteriorating economic situation is also forcing millions of unemployed
citizens to find other work opportunities outside Egypt.
The increased sectarian violence have forced many Copts to migrate to other
countries such as USA, Canada, and Australia. Also many of the Christian
Egyptians are taking religious asylum. In this situation some voices from
the Coptic diasporas have asked for international protection for the
religious minorities in Egypt.
How are churches addressing these challenges? What is the ecumenical
The national churches in Egypt play a critical role in the social life.
They have been raising the awareness about their followers being full
citizens in their country.
Also, churches try to raise awareness among Christians concerning their
participation in social, political and cultural lives.
Some church leaders are attending political and social events to participate
in planning for the new Egypt after the revolution.
On 11 November, a huge ecumenical prayer vigil for Egypt took place, with
attendance of 70,000 Christians from all denominations at the Monastery of
Saint Sam’an El Kharaz, from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. People spent the whole night
praying for Egypt.
On other levels, churches are involved in serving the migrants. This
includes spiritual support with specialized programmes for refugees,
financial support with finding jobs, housing and providing aids, and helping
them with legal procedures related to asylum applications.
More information on the Global Ecumenical Network on Migration
(Link: http://www.oikoumene.org/index.php?RDCT=35583d19cd37639ab596 )
WCC member churches in Egypt (Link:
High resolution photo available via photos.oikoumene.org (Link: