09/12/2013, 00.00
ITALY - EGYPT
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Egyptian Coptic refugee finds comfort in pope's words after enduring pain in Minya

by Giulia Mazza
George and his family owned a supermarket. On 10 August, Islamists blew up the business and threatened to kill him and his loved ones. After his escape, he spent the past month in Rome, waiting for his application for political asylum to be accepted by Italian authorities. In Egypt, "there is no place for me," he said. "I can no longer live there. The Egyptian Revolution is not democratic." For Christians, "Life has never been easy. No one has helped us."

Rome (AsiaNews) - "I saw the pope at the Astalli Centre. Meeting him and listening to his words comforted me, especially now, after I escaped from Egypt. At the moment, it do not think I can go back. I have beautiful memories that will always stay with me, but there is no place for me in my land," said George, a 27-year-old Copt who in August fled from Minya (Upper Egypt), the region most affected by the violence unleashed by Islamists after the overthrow of Mohammed Morsi. Now he is in Rome, where he applied for political asylum to start a new life.

A business graduate, George ran a supermarket with his family (father, mother and a younger brother) in the Muslim section of  the city. "We have always had problems for the simple fact of being a Christian," he explained, "but the situation got worse after Morsi's ouster. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists treated our community as if we were ' guilty ' of what happened. They came after us, and we became a target."

Darkness came on 10 August. "I was about to go into the store, when a group of Islamists stopped me. They threw a bomb at the place blowing it up. That meant that my job was gone; just like that, before my eyes, and I could do nothing. Just because we are Christians! Then, they turned on me. Putting a gun to my head, they threatened me. 'If you say a single word of what happened we are gonna kill you, then we are gonna burn down your house and wipe out your family'."

Something broke inside the young man when his store was destroyed. "It was then that I decided to run away. A friend and I reached Cairo by car, but it was a difficult and dangerous journey. Once we got there, we asked for and obtained a visa for Georgia. The plane made ​​a stopover in Rome. When we got off, we asked the airport police for political asylum."

Once in Italy, George and his friend went first to Milan, home to a large Coptic Egyptian community. However, they found that no one could put them up.

When they met a priest from the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions (PIME), they were invited to return to Rome, where it would be easier to find a bed.

"Meeting him was a true sign of the Lord," he said. "For now, we spend our days looking for a permanent place to stay, but not even Caritas is able to help us. It is hard but I keep going."

On 23 September, the two Christians will meet with Italian authorities for the first time to start the process of seeking political asylum.

"If I can get it," he said, "I shall bring my family here as well. They are still in Minya but have nothing now. The few times we can talk, their voice betrays the fear and concern they are going through" because of threats from the Islamists, "but also over surviving. Without the shop, they do not have the means to support themselves."

"The problem is that the Egyptian Revolution was never a democratic revolution. Never!" George said as he talked about Minya. "It was not when Mubarak fell, much less when Morsi was ousted. Tamarod is good because it is a democratic movement that includes Christians and Muslims, but few Muslims live with us in harmony. There were always problems with the Islamic community; they did not appear with the Muslim Brotherhood. "

"There were problems" during Mubarak's dictatorship, George said. "Certainly, compared to what we have today, they seem much smaller. But in Egypt, Christians and Muslims have never really lived in peace. Christians have never been treated in a democratic way. I do not know why, but that is the way it is. I have always had trouble with Muslims. They have always looked down on us Coptic Christians, even the police and the army . . . ".

For a moment, the story stops. Then George starts up again, with difficulty. "The police, the armed forces, they are all Muslims, and almost no one is willing to help the Christians. Minya has changed face; now it is devastated. Neither the police nor the army have come to our help."

"I cannot live in Egypt anymore," he said repeatedly. "I hope to be reunited with my loved ones soon, and start over our life."

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