Catholic leader in Egypt says government 'doesn't give a damn'

by John L. Allen Jr.

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Egypt’s caretaker military government “doesn’t give a damn” about the suffering of the country’s Christian minority, according to a spokesperson for the Greek Melkite Catholic church in Egypt, who says local Christians are calling upon the administration of Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf to resign.

Fr. Rafic Greiche made the remarks Monday (Oct. 10) in an English-language interview with Vatican Radio.

Greiche said the violence that erupted yesterday in the Maspero section of Cairo, where Christians had gathered to protest a church burning in Aswan on Sept. 30, marks the most serious outbreak since the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak, but it’s hardly the first such episode.

“This is the third time after the revolution, in the space of nine months” that Christians have been targeted, Greiche said.

According to media reports, the violence in Cairo yesterday produced somewhere between 25 and 35 deaths and left hundreds more injured. Most of the fatalities apparently came after the Egyptian army opted to use force to suppress the protests.

Greiche said the army’s role marks a significant deterioration in the security situation for the Christian minority in Egypt, which is conventionally estimated at ten percent of the population.

“At the time of the old regime, of Mubarak, there were also churches being burned and so on,” he said, “but the security services always used to take care of us. Now, even the government does not give a damn about what is happening.”

Greiche outlined three demands that Egyptian Christians are presenting to the country’s interim authorities, ahead of national elections scheduled for late November.

“First of all, the government of [Prime Minister Essam Sharaf] has to leave,” he said.

In remarks to the Egyptian media, Sharaf reportedly blamed Sunday’s violence on “invisible hands” seeking to divide the country. Many Egyptian Christians see that as a deflection of responsibility, reminiscent of the Mubarak era when Muslim-Christian tensions were routinely blamed on outside agitators rather than the product of legitimate Christian grievances.

Grieche also pointed to two religious freedom demands.

“The second thing is that the law permitting the construction of churches and mosques has to be implemented. It was promised by this government four months ago, and it has not been done. The law has to be implemented at all levels,” he said.

“Third, we are asking for another law, one against discrimination. In Egypt, there is discrimination between Muslims and Christians. We ask that such a law be implemented for at least ten years, until society gets used to not discriminating against one another.”

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