Adapted from the broadcast audio segment; use the audio player to listen to the story in its entirety.
Father Constantine Youssef chants a blessing over a squalling infant he's baptizing at St. Mark's Orthodox church in the Cairo suburb of 6th of October City.
Coptic Christians are Egypt's largest religious minority at about 10 percent of the population. Many of them aren’t convinced by promises of religious equality from President Morsi’s Islamist government.
“Somehow, the speech is good, we have some hope things will go ok, but what is doing on the land is not what we are hoping, or any of the Egyptians were hoping,” says Father Constantine Youssef.
These Christians have reason to be concerned about both their political and physical safety. Violence against Copts in Egypt increased after the revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak two years ago. At least three churches have been attacked since Morsi came to office in June. Father Constantine grieves for the losses, but says these incidents are overblown: “Maybe this accident goes through the media and gives the image as if it's the dominant picture or image in Egypt. But to be honest I can't tell you this is the case.”
He says most Christians and Muslims in Egypt get along just fine. Many political leaders in the Christian community, though, blame radical Islamists for the attacks, and the Morsi government for failing to protect their houses of worship.
The Muslim Brotherhood counters that these attacks are less about religious strife and more about a dysfunctional security apparatus.
Gehad el-Haddad is the spokesman for the group. He says, “The Muslim Brotherhood offices, about 36 offices were burned in the last conflict in Egypt. The Freedom and Justice Party had 6 offices burnt in this conflict. Does that mean there's a religious attack against us? Of course not, it means the police are not good enough to protect these buildings… It's a practical error that happens in a dysfunctional state post-revolution.”
The nature of that post-revolution state is outlined in Egypt’s new constitution. Egyptians approved it in a December referendum, but that was after representatives of Christian parties and religious authorities walked out of the drafting committee in the fall.
Hossam Baghat of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights says the Islamist slant of the constitution actually takes the country backwards: “It establishes freedom of religion, but it only establishes protection for the right to practice religion to the three Abrahamic religions: Islam, Christianity, and Judaism… and limits the right to establish places of worship to these three big religions also.”
At the editorial meeting of the Christian newspaper, “Watani”, they discuss events affecting the Christian minority throughout the country.
Chief Editor Youssef Sidhom says though the constitution technically guarantees religious freedom, a later clause in the document, saying Sharia law should guide legislation, makes him worry.
“Any judge would say, well the constitution says that Egyptians are all equal, but the constitution doesn't say in what way they are equal, and, according to Sharia law, Christians and Muslims are not equal. There lies the threat and the damage”, says Youssef Sidhom.
But Christians and Jews are at least mentioned in the constitution. Smaller minority groups, such as Buddhists, Hindus and Baha’is, aren’t mentioned at all.
Baha'i's in Egypt hold devotional meetings in their homes, reading verses from the Koran, Bible, Torah and other religious texts.
At a meeting led by Basma Moussa, the topic is the importance of prayer. She says her group is praying for Egypt, where Baha’is can't list their faith on legal documents or build houses of worship.
Moussa says she doesn’t mind worshiping in her home, but a bigger issue is that the government doesn't recognize Baha'i marriages. “It is difficult for the ladies, especially, when she walks with her husband, anybody can stop her – Who are you? It is very difficult,” says Moussa.
Moussa, a university professor, is pleased at the interest her fellow Egyptians have taken in Baha'i rights since the revolution. Now, she hopes the government will take interest: “Because, in the constitution, till now, there is no mention of Baha'is, and we are waiting for change to take our full citizenship.”
If that change is going to happen, it will likely be done by the next parliament. Parliamentary elections are supposed to be held sometime in the next few months, and civil rights activist Hossam Baghat says that will be the best opportunity to expand religious freedom in the country: “The next parliament is going to be extremely important because it's going to debate and pass all the laws that enact provisions of the new constitution,” says Baghat. “Some laws could mitigate the negative impact of some of the deeply flawed aspects of this constitution, and others laws could actually make things worse.”
Some Christians are mobilizing to support moderate Muslim candidates.They want to give them enough electoral support to wins seats against the popular and well organized Freedom and Justice party, as well as other more conservative Islamist parties.
Muslim Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Haddad says he’s happy for any group to work within the democratic process to change the constitution, but that people should keep in mind the unique nature of politics in Egypt.
He says, “Both Muslims, Copts and Jews are all very religious in Egypt. And, there should not be a contradiction between a secular law of the state and a religious law of one of these three religions. Because if contradictions happen, most citizens would take on the religious law and ignore the state's law.”
Law that still needs to be written by a parliament that still needs to be elected, in a country still deeply divided.
– Reported by Kimberly Adams for America Abroad