By Christie L. Chicoine
CS&T Staff Writer
A 31-year-old Coptic Orthodox Christian priest from Montgomery County and a 55-year-old Muslim who is an engineering professor at Villanova University share a similar childhood memory: as boys growing up in Egypt, each played soccer on teams comprised of both Coptic Christians and Muslims.
Last week, the priest and the engineer experienced a game-changer off their native Egypt’s soccer fields: a revolution of the political regime that resulted in the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s dictator for more than three decades.
Whether the demonstrators there achieve their true goal – a democracy – will be determined at the polls during the election in September.
“We’re all praying for everyone in Egypt and the circumstances in Egypt – it’s definitely a great step for Egypt – it’s a brave step, it’s a courageous step,” said Father Mina Shaheid, a pastor at St. George Coptic Orthodox Church of Greater Philadelphia in Norristown.
The Coptic Orthodox Church is not in full communion with the Catholic Church.
“Of course, everybody is worried about what may happen in the future, hoping that things do move toward the correct direction….
“But the church in Egypt has always been going through rough times and persecutions at many different levels. I am hoping this will bring an end to this type of rejection or persecution to the church as well.”
Moeness G. Amin, Villanova’s director of the Center for Advanced Communications in the College of Engineering, holds a doctorate in electrical engineering and has served on the faculty of the university’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering since 1985.
“I was very delighted that the precarious situation in Egypt has concluded peacefully and relatively quickly, and consistent with what people have actually asked for and aspired to,” Amin said Feb. 11, the day Mubarak fled Cairo and, subsequently, resigned as president.
“Egyptians today are the winners. If you ask an Egyptian today how he feels, he will tell you that if he wasn’t an Egyptian he would have loved to be an Egyptian because they are very proud of what they have accomplished.”
Amin applauded the demonstrators for their conduct throughout the three-week revolution.
“Today, they have regained a self-confidence,” Amin said. “They believe in themselves, they believe in their power, they believe in their cause.”
That in itself is a major gain, Amin said, and a stark contrast to the reality of a 40-plus-year-old plight, in which “Egyptians were told they were not ready for democracy, as if they were a second- or-a third-class nation, or not deserving of democracy….
“Today, basically, they said ‘enough is enough – we are entitled to have a life just like a free nation.’ The Egyptians, just like western countries like the U.S., are capable of running their own affairs without having one man ruling for so many years.
“They would like to have free speech and free elections without any ceiling.”
Amin is confident that the country’s army will be a capable caretaker during Egypt’s political transition.
“The army has always gained the respect of the people because it’s kind of an independent entity. Egypt has gone through several wars and so many sacrifices from the army were made in order to keep Egypt as a sovereign country,” he said.
“There is a tremendous respect and acknowledgement of the sacrifices the army has given.”
St. George Coptic Orthodox Church prays for but did not celebrate, per se, the outcome of last week’s revolution, Father Shaheid said.
“This is not a religious situation at this point; it’s more political. We like to separate church from politics, but during the conflict we fasted and prayed and had liturgical services daily for the situation in Egypt and we continue to do so.”
There are some who fear the unknown and would have preferred that Mubarak retain the presidency, said Father Shaheid, who moved to the United States with his family at age 9.
A number of Amin’s older nieces and nephews were among the demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. “I definitely am proud of them, of being part of this revolution,” Amin said. “It’s a historic moment. Five years from now, you’re going to hear people tell, ‘I was in Tahrir Square.’ People will always remember what happened in Egypt.”
The televised cheers of the protesters as Mubarak resigned resounded across the waters. “The cheering is very much a sigh of relief,” Amin said.
“Definitely, I will sleep much better,” he said.
Yet, he said, there remain “challenging times ahead” for Egypt.
“Freedom and democracy come with responsibilities – a responsibility to be informed, to vote, to participate in political life.” Amin is confident his fellow Egyptians will address those challenges with energy and aplomb.
A number of Father Shaheid’s childhood soccer club teammates were Muslim, he said. Typically, “When we play, we don’t ask, ‘Are you Christian or are you Muslim?’ You play with your friend. It doesn’t matter.”
Amin agreed. “I grew up with Christian Coptics,” he said, recalling the numerous games of soccer he played with them as a young boy and teenager.
Amin considered his Coptic Christian teammates among his closest friends. “This business of animosity between or separation of Muslims and Coptics, I never heard of it in the 25 years that I lived in Egypt,” he said.
“This is completely artificial, very foreign to the Egyptian.”
CS&T Staff Writer Christie L. Chicoine may be reached at 215-587-2468 or email@example.com.
Prayers in a ‘time of turmoil’
The Archdiocese of Philadelphia’s Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs asks area Catholics “to pray for religious freedom for all, especially in Egypt as the basis for peace. We pray for Egypt in its time of turmoil.”
– Sister Judith Kreipe, I.H.M.,
Assistant Director, Office for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs