By John Pontifex
THE leader of Catholic Copts has called on the world to pray for peace in Egypt amid growing tensions as millions throng the streets in rival protests.
Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak of Alexandria highlighted the growing crisis and unrest across the country in the build-up to a weekend of demonstrations marking one year since Mohammed Morsi became the country’s first Islamist president.
With protests already attracting nearly three million people and signs the numbers will dwarf those who prompted the February 2011 downfall of President Mubarak, Patriarch Sidrak said: “I call on people around the world: please pray, please pray that there is no more bloodshed.”
The patriarch’s call for prayer was made during a briefing meeting today (Friday, 28th June) with Neville Kyrke-Smith, National Director, Aid to the Church in Need (UK), who is on a fact-finding trip across Egypt.
Both Patriarch Sidrak and Pope Tawadros II, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch of Alexandria, have told their faithful to “follow their conscience”, saying they are free to protest if they wish.
Patriarch Sidrak went on to tell ACN: “Christians here do not use violence. Young people are more assertive now and will protect themselves.
“As Christians, we are always together with moderate Muslims against what will harm Egypt.”
Patriarch Sidrak said that since the fall of Mubarak at least 200,000 Christians have left the country “party for economic reasons and partly through fear”.
He said: “Some people feel that Christians are second class citizens and are made to feel that they are not real Egyptians.”
Reiterating the appeal for prayer, Father Rafic Greiche, press officer for the Catholic Church in Egypt, told ACN: “Christians in Egypt are trapped in this situation between normal Muslims and the fundamentalist ones that suddenly emerged after the revolution leading to the fall of Mubarak.”
His statement comes amid reports that a petition opposing Mr Morsi and calling for early presidential elections has attracted up to 20 million signatures, outnumbering votes cast for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate in last year’s presidential elections.
Commenting on the petition’s popularity, Fr Greiche told ACN: “The Christians are not sheep. The Copts are free to participate in protests.
“All of us should pray for change, for social justice, for the poor, for religious freedom and for freedom of conscience.”
He said that sectarian attacks were now taking place almost daily whereas in the whole of Mubarak’s 30-year presidency, there had been 1,600.
With reports stating that up to three million people were out protesting across Egypt yesterday evening (Thursday, 27th June), Mr Kyrke-Smith described witnessing a protest near the Presidential Palace in Cairo.
He said: “Cairo is on the edge. One Muslim cleric is warning of the danger of a civil war.
“It is a very anxious and uncertain time. People are afraid of what will happen if they do not take to the streets and stand up for their rights and for freedom of conscience and social change.”
Mr Kyrke-Smith quoted a young Coptic Christian man, Ramy, aged 27, who told him: ‘“We must take courage. We Christians must be brave and be salt and light to the world.”’