EGYPT: Thousands of Christians gather to pray for equality in a Muslim land
Around 7,000 Coptic Christians gathered at the Father Kyrillos church on the outskirts of Cairo to pray for an end to "discriminaton" during the celebration of the Egyptian Coptic New Year this weekend.The gathering Friday came after calls by a number of Coptic organizations to abandon this year's celebrations as a protest against the perceived oppression of Christians in Egypt were met by deaf ears.
Thousands of Copts attended ceremonial masses on the same day.
But groups like Youth Against Discrimination and Copts United for Egypt urged Copts to show anger by declaring Sept. 11 -- Coptic New Year -- a general sit-in for Christians throughout the country.
They asked people not to attend New Year masses, to stay home all day and wear all-black outfits in addition to decorating their windows with black flags.
While the Coptic Orthodox Church, headed by Pope Shenouda III, rejected such a protest, claiming that the Coptic New Year is a religious occasion that should never be politically orientated, priest Metias Nasr of Father Kyrillos' church said that the gathering was arranged to show solidarity with the Christian groups' demands.
"We are not here to support any sit-ins or strikes. We are here to call for the same demands those groups based the idea of a general protest on," Nasr said. "All our grievances are legitimate enough to start a sit-in, but we have never discussed such possibility."
The attending crowd carried signs with slogans asking the government to issue a uniform law for building worship houses and condemning what they called the forceful conversion of Coptic minors to Islam.
"Copts have been silent about violations to their rights for so long, but now it is time to speak out," said Rami Kamel, general coordinator of Youth Against Discrimination.
"Solving Copts' problems in Egypt will be the country's only way of ever reaching democracy," Kamel added.
Copts form around 10% of Egypt's population of nearly 80 million. Sunni Islam is the country's main religion and Islamic Sharia law is the cornerstone of all legislation.
-- Amro Hassan in Cairo
Photo: Friday's gathering at Father Kyrillos' church. Credit: Al Destour