Both Christians and Muslims have been protesting together in Egypt over the past few days. In an interview with AsiaNews, a Coptic priest said there was no sectarian divide in the demonstrations.
He said: "Christians and Muslims are united in the demonstrations in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Churches and mosques are places of congregation for demonstrators."
Christians in Egypt do suffer discrimination and there have been violent attacks on Christians churches in the recent past. However, the priest said, in these current demonstrations, "people are not moved by religion but by the absence of social justice, by the corruption, the high cost of living, the lack of democracy. . . . These problems touch everyone, Christians and Muslims alike."
"The cost of living is the most urgent problem. For example, a loaf of bread can cost five Egyptian piastres but it is usually uneatable. To buy bread worthy of 'human consumption' you would have to spend 25 piastres. A kilo of sugar, which used to cost 50 piastres (half an Egyptian pound), now costs five pounds. Some prices have gone up 50 fold, whilst salaries have risen only 10 per cent. 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. Poverty is felt more in the cities. In the villages, farmers make do with little. In the cities, prices are too high, not to mention unemployment. Each morning, you can see people going through garbage to find something to eat"
The priest said that while in Tunisia, protests were secular, in Egypt, they are linked to the mosque and religion.
"Tunisia has been a secular state for 60 years. We here are in country where Islam is constitutionally the official religion. However, there was nothing Islamic in the protests. People are tired of life’s burdens and of economic corruption. By contrast, religious leaders are paid by the state, and so often do what the government tells them to do."
He said: "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."
The priest concluded: "The situation is very difficult. We hope Egypt’s friends will influence the government to put in place some urgent reforms. 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."