In Egypt, journey down a Nile of discontent
Voices from the 'other Egypt' show why the country is so riven – and what its next leaders face.
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When the fighting first broke out here in early 2011, representatives from both the Christian and Muslim communities tried to quell the violence. But angry crowds quickly gathered in front of Christian homes, and some of the occupants fired guns from their rooftops. Later, the mobs burned Christian homes and businesses.Skip to next paragraph
In Pictures Trouble Along the Nile
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Maria Dawoud was at her family's home when the structure was set on fire. "We didn't know where we would go. We were just running, so scared," she says. Crowds looted everything in the home.
Authorities arrested 20 people, and a state security court convicted all 12 Christians, sentencing them to life in prison, while acquitting the eight Muslims on trial. That verdict has since been annulled and the 12 released, though a retrial is ongoing.
Mrs. Dawoud's son, Fanous Nadi Ibrahim, was one of those arrested. A cattle trader, he says he was in another town on business when the violence broke out and had nothing to do with it. Since his release from prison, he lives in a new home with his wife, children, and extended family. It's unfinished – the walls are raw concrete – and barely furnished, unlike their previous home. The loss of all the family's possessions, along with money in the house that was not his and had to be repaid, "has set me back 10 years," he says.
Abu Qurqas looks peaceful – it's full of small alleyways where children sit on front steps, and in the evenings farmers come in from the fields, herding their oxen ahead of them through the streets. But the village is roughly divided into Christian and Muslim areas, and residents say that divide has grown sharper since the events.
Christians say they rarely go to the Muslim areas now and express fear at the prospect of doing so. They talk about the Muslim side as if the two areas are far apart, when the reality is it's just around a corner. "Even those Christians who were not imprisoned sold their houses in [the Muslim] area," he says. "It's because of the discrimination, the name-calling, the insults. There's injustice toward Christians everywhere now. All we want is God's justice."
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But justice is hard to find. The journey from Aswan to Abu Qurqas shows that Egyptians are still struggling with the same challenges of injustice and inequality that pushed people to overthrow Mr. Mubarak.
The defining chant of the 2011 protests – bread, freedom, and social justice – showed that what Egyptians wanted wasn't just free elections, but a government that would address the entrenched issues that were pushing the country down. The rulers who came after Mubarak, both the military junta and Morsi, never solved those problems. They never attempted to reform police and create security forces that could protect people without the rampant abuse and torture that exists now. They ignored the civil strife that is deepening in dangerous ways, failing to protect Egypt's minorities. They didn't address the inequality and growing economic crisis leaving millions of Egyptians without jobs and options.
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The protests on June 30, while partly a rejection of Morsi's autocratic ruling style and the perception that he was serving the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood instead of Egypt, were also about these same unfulfilled demands. In a way, they're a warning to Egypt's future leaders – that as long as these problems are ignored, instability may continue.
• This project was supported by a grant from the Ford Foundation.