On a side street in the far northeast Cairo suburb of Ain Shams, the door of a five-story former underwear factory is padlocked.
This is, or was supposed to be, the St. Mary and Anba Abraam Coptic Christian Church. Police closed it Nov. 24, 2008, when Muslims rioted against its consecration. Since then local Copts have had to commute to distant churches or worship in hiding at each other’s homes.
While Muslim leaders criticized the Nov. 29 vote in Switzerland that banned construction of minarets, they don’t support Christians who want to build churches in some Islamic countries. Restrictions in Egypt have exacerbated sectarian violence and discrimination, say Copts, a 2,000-year-old denomination that comprises about 10 percent of the population.
The day after the Swiss vote, Ali Gomaa, one of Egypt’s top Muslim clerics, called the decision “an attempt to insult the feelings of the Muslim community in and outside of Switzerland.”
Copts quickly said that neither Gomaa nor any other Islamic leader mentioned the Christian situation in Egypt.
“Without the merest attempt to put our house in order, are we in any position to taunt others to put theirs?” Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Cairo-based Egyptian Coptic weekly newspaper El-Watani, said in a telephone interview. “They should be ashamed.”...
“The decision of the Swiss people stood to be interpreted as xenophobic, prejudiced, discriminative and against the universal human-rights values,” said the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, which represents 57 Muslim-majority nations.
Members include Saudi Arabia, where non-Muslims are arrested for worshipping privately; Maldives, the Indian Ocean atoll where citizenship is reserved for Muslims; Libya, which limits churches to one per denomination in cities; and Iran, where conversion from Islam is punished by death, according to a 2009 U.S. State Department report on religious freedom.
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