February 14, 2011
Demonstrators continued their opposition to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with a large gathering in Tahrir Square in Cairo Feb. 8.


Demonstrators continued their opposition to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak with a large gathering in Tahrir Square in Cairo Feb. 8.


OTTAWA - The pastor of Holy Family Coptic Catholic Church in Toronto, is not just worried about fellow Copts - Orthodox or Catholic - in Egypt, he is worried about the future for all Egyptians.

Father Beshoi Anis, who still has family and friends in Egypt, has concerns Egyptians face either the continued dictatorship of the corrupt Mubarak regime or a drastic change resulting in an Islamist theocracy.

He hopes the protests that have rocked Egypt and other countries of the Middle East will lead to a secular state with democratic civil society institutions that respects fundamental rights such as religious freedom.

Anis is troubled by reports that Mubarak and his ministers have managed to siphon off billions of dollars from the revenues coming from tourism and the Suez Canal. "We believe this money was taken from the poor people," he said in an interview from Toronto. "It was our food."

"Where has the money gone?" he asked.

He hopes Canadian Catholics will ask the Canadian government to put pressure on Mubarak to "create freedom for everyone."

Carl Hétu, national secretary of CNEWA Canada (Catholic Near East Welfare Association) stressed the protests in Egypt are largely those of young Egyptians aged 25 to 34 who are highly educated, plugged into the world's social media and networks but frustrated because they can't find work.

"They are now asking for their share," he said, noting the plight of young people is similar in countries all over the Middle East.

The problem for Egypt is whether the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist group, will try to appropriate the movement, he said.

But the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only player, he added, noting that the elite of Egypt "will not let go" and will be faithful to Mubarak.

Like their offshoot Hamas and the radical Iran-backed Islamist group Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood does a great deal to care for people socially through various programs to help the poor, he said. It has been the failure of countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen to care for their people that has allowed these movements to grow.

Hétu compared the situation in Egypt to the fight for rights in Latin America.

Many Latin Americans found strength in Catholic social movements as they mobilized against harsh regimes. Young people in Egypt are, in a similar way, seeking insights in Islam as a way of finding the freedom they seek, he said.

The youth behind the present uprising "are not necessarily behind the Brotherhood," Hétu said. "They don't want to replace one oppressive regime with another."

So far, Christians have not been targeted, though there was an explosion Feb. 5 at an empty church in Rafah, near Egypt's border with Gaza. In January, extremists bombed a Coptic church in Alexandria, killing nearly two dozen people and injuring many more.

Christians have not felt protected under Mubarak and have faced discrimination, Hétu said.

The biggest fear is that Egypt will turn into another Iraq where the ancient Christian community has been persecuted so badly that tens of thousands have fled the country.

CNEWA has a modest program in Egypt, working with partners to provide clinics, farming cooperatives, and help for the blind, for example. It also helps churches there with funding for seminarians and novitiates and ministries such as running orphanages.