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Coptic Priest: Egyptian Crisis Is Not About Religion but Christians Still Threatened

By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS Staff Journalist

Less than a month after Muslim extremists killed dozens of Christians in a New Year's Day attack, a Coptic priest says Christians and Muslims are marching together in the new national uprising in Egypt, but no matter who gains control of the tottering government, the future still looks bleak for followers of Christ.

In an exclusive interview with AsiaNews, a Coptic priest identified only as Fr. Boulos Garas to protect him from retaliation, said the current crisis is not about religion.

" . . . (P)eople are not moved by religion but by the absence of social justice, by the corruption, the high cost of living, the lack of democracy," he said. "These problems touch everyone, Christians and Muslims alike."

The cost of living is the most urgent problem, he said, with prices for everyday staples such as bread and sugar skyrocketing.

"Some prices have gone up 50 fold, whilst salaries have risen only 10 per cent, Fr. Garas said. "So many people cannot get any medical care because they cannot afford the high cost of drugs. I know sick people who let themselves die because they did not have the money for drugs or an operation."

Fr. Garas said that every morning he sees people going through the garbage looking for something to eat.

The Egyptian people are calling for broad economic, political and social reform because things just can't go on as they are, he said.

"No one can predict or foretell what will happen. No one knows in what direction we are going. The only thing that is sure is that we must change this system, which has become ossified over the past 30 years," he said.

The problem is that the demonstrations are not well organized. "There is a popular movement, but it is leaderless, except at the local level. Even the opposition, like the Muslim Brotherhood, is divided. All this makes it hard to predict how things will end."

Even though Christians are right now protesting alongside Muslims, this doesn't mean the future looks any brighter for them now than it did a month ago when they were rioting in the streets over the government's lackluster response to the mass murder of 23 Christians who were attending Mass on New Year's Day in the Egyptian city of Alexandria.

"Right now, the demonstrations are not against Christians. Patriarch Shenouda has called for calm. But many Christians and non-Christians told him, that this is not the time for calm, because Christians are also affected by the crisis.

"In fact, for Christians the crisis is even worse because they suffer discrimination and have a hard time finding jobs. In case of promotions, they are passed over in favour younger Muslim employees. If a Christian opens a shop, fewer people buy from him."

Fr. Garas is hoping the Egypt's friends in the West will have the courage to demand much needed reforms in the country.

"Perhaps, the West may not want to intervene in the 'internal affairs of another country,' but this is not a question of 'internal affairs,' but rather about the human dignity of every Egyptian."

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