Like the protesters who have flooded the streets of Egypt in the past week, the country’s large minority of Coptic Christians worry about joblessness and lack of freedoms. But most want President Hosni Mubarak to stay in power.
Fear of what may follow the removal of Mr. Mubarak, a secular strongman who has ruled the country for the past 30 years, is making reluctant supporters out of the country’s Christians, an estimated 10% of Egypt’s 80 million population. Mr. Mubarak has been aggressive in pursuing perceived Islamist extremist groups, a policy that has endeared him to Coptic Christians, not to mention the U.S.
Many Copts worry that Mr. Mubarak’s exit would leave them dangerously exposed—either by chaos, or to a government that may be more tolerant of Islamist extremists. ~The Wall Street Journal
These are very reasonable fears. Since the secular authoritarian government in Iraq fell after the invasion, the Christian minorities in Iraq have been exposed to frequent atrocities and intimidation. While there were some encouraging signs of Muslim solidarity with the Copts after the Alexandria church bombing, there is reason to worry that Copts and other Christians would face the same threats if the current regime fell. Even if a new government were not tolerant of attacks on minorities, it might be too weak to offer effective protection. Protections for ethnic and religious minorities are essential for preventing new democratic governments from devolving into majoritarian tyrannies, especially when those minorities may be identified (fairly or unfairly) with the old regime. Democratists have had a bad habit of ignoring the dangers to minorities that promoting democracy in the region has worsened, and Near Eastern Christians have been among those most harmed by this project. We may hope that the Coptic Church and the other Christians living and working in Egypt do not share that fate.