To visit Youssef Sidhom, editor of Watany, Egypt’s only Coptic Christian newspaper, one must walk through a Cairo alley and up a worn staircase to a warren of offices that look like an American small town U.S. paper of decades ago.
But Sidhom has carried on the tradition of the paper’s founder, his father Anton Sidhom, in informing and promoting Egypt’s Copts, the inheritors of an ancient community predating Islam that now makes up about 10 per cent of Egypt’s 85,000 people.
Sidhom clearly believes that the military’s overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi, was a blessing. Copts turned out in force for the massive June 28 demo that gave the military it’s excuse to move. “We already led the way in repudiating Islamic politics,” he said.
Copts suffered discrimination under former President Mubarak, with limitations on church-building and episodes of church-burning, but were particularly fearful of the future under a MuslimBrotherhood government. Hardline Islamists and some Muslim Brotherhood followers blamed Morsi’s fall on the Christians’ stance, and there was an explosion of churchburnings – 85 in all – starting in mid-August.
But, although some rich Copts left during Morsi’s year in power, most Copts feel they deeply Egyptian, and had not begun the kind of exodus one sees by Iraqi and Syrian Christians. “Our Pope said these churches are brick walls, and we will pray anywhere but will stick to Egypt, and one day they will be rebuilt by Christians and Muslim, “Sidhom told me. “He sensed we should put our Egyptian identity first.”
As if to underline this point, one of Egypt’s richest man and most prominent Copts, the telecoms mogul Naguib Saweris, has returned to Cairo after a year of self-imposed exile, and pledged that he and his family will invest $1 billion in boosting the Egyptian economy an creating jobs.
However, early indications are that the Copts' troubles have not been alleviated by the fall of Morsi. This week, two Copts received long jail terms for the murder of a Muslim during Muslim-Christian clashes in the village of Khusus, a village north of Cairo. But in an echo of previous incidents, no Muslim received any jail time for the murder of five Christians in the same clash.