The Catholic Church in Egypt has 250 thousand faithful. Its seven catholic communities live in harmony. The Coptic Catholic Church has the greatest number of faithful, shared among seven eparchies. The Melkite Greek Catholic eparchy, the Maronites, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Chaldeans, and the Latin Catholics can also be found in Egypt, in addition to male and female religious orders.
The Catholic Church in Egypt distinguishes itself for its service to the local society. This is rendered through 170 schools, media, spiritual institutions, organizations for development and education, and societies of apostolic life that have planted roots in Egypt.
Catholics have been attentive to charity, development, and culture in Egypt, and also to political action. This has weakened following the July 1952 revolution, when many Catholic owned properties were nationalised. Many then emigrated, particularly to Canada, Australia, and the USA where they established communities and churches. The authoritarian regime, that has been silencing people since the 1952 revolution, has forced Catholics to give up political action, along with all the other Egyptians yearning for freedom, equality, and social justice. Thanks to the revolution of 25 January 2011 and to the fall of the authoritarian regime, Egyptians were able to breathe the air of freedom. Everyone started talking about politics, analyzing, planning, and trying to discern the future.
Shortly before the 2011 revolution, the situation in Egypt and in neighbouring countries had reached humiliating levels of unemployment, poor education and health, mostly among the middle and lower classes. The occasional riots between Christians and Muslims influenced daily life. Christians had important demands that were intentionally disregarded, such as the law on building churches and the one on the personal status of Christians. There also was religious discrimination towards Christians, particularly regarding key roles in universities and ministries. To tell the truth, Christians only complained about this quietly. They preferred stability in the shade of the regime. In the meantime they insisted in their demand for personal rights and their implementation. Maybe we should ‘repent’ this passivity.
The condition of Christians wasn’t optimal, to the extent that His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI called a Synod for the Middle East in October 2011, three months before the Arab Spring. Thanks to his insight, His Holiness felt the whole region was on fire.
The new situation after the January 25 revolution is the same for all Egyptians, they have developed a great interest in politics and a great number are taking part, more than ten times those that participated in the years before the revolution. During that time elections were rigged by the old regime and the ruling National Party. The revolution managed to establish freedom of expression. Its goals of “peace, freedom, and social justice” have not been reached, because of the poorly managed transition by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, with the help of a vote biased in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood. We have not set up a road map like in Tunisia. This caused an enormous waste of time and many clashes between the revolutionary movements and the armed forces, such as those in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and in Maspero, which left 26 people dead and 150 injured among Coptic Christians.
Young Christians, particularly Catholics – including priests – took part in the revolution, heading to Tahrir Square, or volunteering in country hospitals. All Catholics experienced this movement. Nevertheless, because of the many mistakes made and because of the Muslim Brotherhood, that rode the crest of the wave, the revolution lost its way. The Muslim movement took control of it, giving it a religious character. It eventually managed to obtain more than 70 percent of the seats in Parliament. Nevertheless, in seven months, this parliament did not pass a single “revolutionary” law – laws fulfilling the economic and social demands which gave birth to the revolution – neither did it pass the laws Christians were waiting for, such as freedom to build churches, the long-awaited law on personal status or the anti-discrimination bill.
Egypt is now divided. There is the Islamist part, composed of various groups. The most prominent are the Muslim Brotherhood, then there are the Salafists, and the jihadists who killed President Sadat in 1981. At the beginning of the revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists were forming one front, but then they broke up. The Salafists accused the Muslim Brotherhood of using them with the promise to implement Sharia – a promise which the Brotherhood did not honour. On the other hand, the liberal parties are also divided. The crowds guide them, and not the opposite. Youth movements like “April 6” lead the manifestations and sometimes go beyond peaceful demonstrations with stones and molotovs ending up in their hands. Moreover, they constantly oppose their political leaders, especially Mohamed El-Baradei, who was accused of misleading his party.
What is good and appears as a ray of light is the fact that the Churches – with their different denominations – are getting together. They pray together, they meet constantly, they took the decision of withdrawing from the national dialogue together, they presented their objection on the constitution together, and finally they set up the Council of Egyptian Churches together. It will be an instrument for common work within the churches and we hope it will resolve many issues.
There is a new catholic pope, and a new Coptic Orthodox pope – who is modest and loving, and open to all Christians – and also a new Coptic Catholic patriarch. These new leaders are a source of hope.