Cover Story

Outside the camp

"Outside the camp" Continued...

Issue: "De-coding Morsi," July 28, 2012

Posner told the group that the White House "doesn't pick winners and losers in elections," and that they were interacting with the Muslim Brotherhood "not because we agree with them, but because they are in power."

Other questions centered on why the United States continued military aid to Egypt, particularly after the Egyptian military used tanks to plow down more than a dozen Coptic Christians demonstrating against the burning of a church last October. The clash, known as the "Maspero Massacre," left at least 27 dead, mostly Coptic Christians.

Posner said the United States has serious concerns about human-rights abuses and religious liberty in Egypt, and that the government would revisit the issue of funding this fall. A handful of Republican congressmen have called on Congress to withhold funding unless Egypt meets human-rights conditions, including religious liberty standards.

Walid Phares, advisor to the anti-terrorism caucus of the U.S. House of Representatives, is a Lebanese-born scholar who has studied Coptic rights for more than 22 years. He says the United States should establish clear religious liberty standards as a condition of foreign aid.

And he suggests something else: The Obama administration should meet with Coptic Christians. "It's the oddest of all things-we've never seen a delegation of Copts in the White House or the State Department," he says. "The weakest should get more attention."

If the administration fails to give more attention to minority groups, Phares says the Muslim Brotherhood will likely consolidate its power: "In Egypt you'll have an Islamist state-partly built by American money-and then they will use that power to gain more influence against us."

Phares believes that the Brotherhood will also eventually clamp down on Christian activity in Egypt, including churches and groups trying to serve needy populations: "They have to expect suppression."

Most religious liberty experts don't expect immediate suppression of Christians in Egypt. Kurt Werthmuller of the Hudson Institute says it will likely be a gradual process that might initially include more cases of blasphemy against Christians and apostasy charges focused on Muslim converts to Christianity.

Egyptian Christians and the U.S. government must use the "window of time," Werthmuller says, when the Muslim Brotherhood is still responding to outside pressure.

By early July, tensions already were rising as Morsi sought to reconvene the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated parliament that the ruling military council had dissolved.

In the meantime, organizations like Stephen's Children continue their work among Christians in places like Helwan. The group has no political affiliation-and it doesn't make political comments-but focuses on serving groups that Emad Beshay calls "the poorest of the poor."

Like thousands across the garbage districts of Cairo, and in slums and rural regions across the rest of the country, many Christians here face little hope of advancing under an Islamist government, and virtually no hope of escaping the country if violent suppression increases. An outbreak of violence against Christians in the Mokattam garbage district last year killed at least nine, and some Christians fear that an Islamist government won't protect them in the future. And though their poverty is already extreme, some worry about the possibility of losing help from relief groups if those organizations face suppression.

For now, Egyptian aid groups continue to help as they're able, and poverty-stricken Egyptians who make up as much as 40 percent of the population continue to survive. So do churches. Back at Kasr el Dobara in Cairo, Pastor Said wrote that the church will continue its work: "We are holding more prayer meetings, and trying to encourage our people. The leaders of our church are not pessimistic. ... We might go through a hard time, and the road will be a steep hill, but we trust God's grace that will enable us to survive and persevere."

Jamie Dean
Jamie Dean

Jamie lives and works in North Carolina, where she covers the national political beat and other topics as news editor for WORLD. Follow Jamie on Twitter @deanworldmag.

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