Cairo (AsiaNews) – Different rallies got underway today, after Friday prayers, in various areas of the capital to protest against the Egyptian government. However, the protests that are rattling the regime are not confessional in nature. They are the result of the burdens everyone, Christians and Muslims, must bear: prices rising 50 fold, insignificant wages, extreme poverty, hunger, lack of drugs and medical care. For Christians, things are even worse because of the discrimination they have to endure. This, briefly, is how Fr Boulos Garas (not his real name for security reasons), described Egypt’s political problems in an interview with AsiaNews. Speaking about the 30-year rule by Egypt’s de facto dynasty, in a country with a parliament but no opposition, the Coptic priest said that the future looks bleak. However, he insisted that Egypt’s friends must push its government to implement necessary reforms. They should not fear about interfering in its “internal affairs” because what is at stake is man’s dignity. Here is the full interview with Fr Boulos.
Who is demonstrating?
Christians and Muslims are united in the demonstrations in Cairo and other Egyptian cities. Churches and mosques are places of congregation for demonstrators. However, people are not moved by religion but by the absence of social justice, by the corruption, the high cost of living, the lack of democracy. . . . These problems touch everyone, Christians and Muslims alike.
The cost of living is the most urgent problem. For example, a loaf of bread can cost five Egyptian piastres but it is usually uneatable. To buy bread worthy of “human consumption” you would have to spend 25 piastres. A kilo of sugar, which used to cost 50 piastres (half an Egyptian pound), now costs 5 pounds. Some prices have gone up 50 fold, whilst salaries have risen only 10 per cent. So many people cannot get any medical care because they cannot afford the high cost of drugs. I know sick people who let themselves die because they did not have the money for drugs or an operation. Poverty is felt more in the cities. In the villages, farmers make do with little. In the cities, prices are too high, not to mention unemployment. Each morning, you can see people going through garbage to find something to eat.
Alas, demonstrations are not well organised for now. There is a popular movement, but it is leaderless, except at the local level. Even the opposition, like the Muslim Brotherhood, is divided. All this makes it hard to predict how things will end. The wave is gaining strength by the day, like today, after Friday prayer.
Is there an Islamic influence?
In Tunisia, from where the domino effect began rolling, protests were secular, without reference to the Islamic religion or prayers. In Egypt, they are linked to the mosque and religion. Tunisia has been a secular state for 60 years. We here are in country where Islam is constitutionally the official religion. However, there was nothing Islamic in the protests. People are tired of life’s burdens and of economic corruption. By contrast, religious leaders are paid by the state, and so often do what the government tells them to do.
What is the future of the demonstrations?
People want broad reform, political, economic and social, because things cannot go on as they are.
No one can predict or foretell what will happen. No one knows in what direction we are going. The only thing that is sure is that we must change this system, which has become ossified over the past 30 years. Just imagine that in the last elections only one Member of Parliament out of more than 400 was elected from the ranks of the opposition. All the others are from Mubarak’s party. Is taht democracy?
Muhammad El Baradei, former chief of the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency), has brought some home because he was out the country (much of the time) and has not not caught up in local squabbles. But one person alone cannot achieve the necessary changes.
Are there concerns for the fate of Christians?
Right now, the demonstrations are not against Christians. Patriarch Shenouda has called for calm. But many Christians and non-Christians told him, that this is not the time for calm, because Christians are also affected by the crisis. In fact, for Christians the crisis is even worse because they suffer discrimination and have a hard time finding jobs. In case of promotions, they are passed over in favour younger Muslim employees. If a Christian opens a shop, fewer people buy from him.
Is the West involved or just a bystander?
The situation is very difficult. We hope that Egypt’s friends will influence the government to put in place some urgent reforms. Perhaps, the West may not want to intervene in the “internal affairs of another country”, but this is not a question of “internal affairs”, but rather about the human dignity of every Egyptian.