Egypt's Christians Face An Uncertain Future

Photographs and Text by Alvaro Ybarra Zavala

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On January 25, 2011, Egypt witnessed what will probably become the most important moment of modern Egyptian history. A new uprising added to the ‘Arab spring’, and the citizens occupied the streets to precipitate the fall of Mubarak’s regime, demanding rights, liberty and democracy for a country which was tired of repression.

The international community fell in love with the spirit of an unexpected revolution that not only showed the world a new yearning for democracy and tolerance, but also demonstrated sufficient power and organization to bring down Mubarak’s regime. The idea of a new emerging and free Egypt appeared to be a likely future for the most important Arab power worldwide.

However, just three months later, the lack of democratic culture, the shadow cast by the powers that be, and the obvious differences in faith have woken up the sons of the revolution from their dreams, and now they’re suffering a serious post-traumatic hangover. On March 19, a few days after a massacre of Christians, an overwhelming majority of votes endorsed a series of controversial constitutional amendments that inclined the balance of power towards the re-Islamization of Egypt advocated by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The denouncements of a campaign of abusive carried out behind the scenes by this powerful opposition group, and the violence and discrimination defended by the most extremist Salafists, have spread a new fear throughout social networks. Many of them consider it a betrayal of the spirit of revolution. Others are convinced that it represents a blank cheque to establish a new Muslim republic in the first Christian country, which is also the cradle of the teachings of Islam, a place where the moderate sector and the Christian minority will be considered outsiders.

The Egyptian revolution offered for the first time, both to women and to the Christian community, a chance to feel part of a nation that previously ignored, rejected or persecuted them. However, as veils are lifted and intentions emerge, the future is so dark that many citizens are already regretting that brave January 25.

Fear runs on a par with the ignorance of a majority towards a minority, and the lack of confidence of the latter. Law changes have turned Christians into aliens in their own country, and militant Muslims consider them ‘barely Egyptian’, while Christians fruitlessly insist that they are the true past of this nation, although they have learnt lessons from history and show their resignation. Isolated, repressed, despised, impoverished and without expectations, many of them have been doomed to collect litter, and the old insult “You Pig Christians” sets the tone for a new persecution of those who eat the forbidden animal and live as pigs in rubbish dumps.

New Salafist authorities are emerging in rural areas, and impose Islamic Law without scope for appeal, while a simultaneous wave of violence, death and destruction of churches is taking place, to the ignorance, impotence or even with consent of the law enforcement authorities.

The future is very uncertain for Egyptian Christians and moderate Muslims. The stability of this large oil producing country, heavily populated, but poor, and of the Arab region as a whole, is hanging by a thread, waiting to see whether the Egyptians decide on their future and identity by themselves or they let radicals decide it for them.

This feature was shot in March 2011.

Full edit of 75 images available on request.