How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

As violence mounts back home, are Egyptian Americans losing hope?

Photo by Mae Ryan/KPCC

Egyptian Coptic Christians pray during a service at St. Mary of Egypt Coptic Orthodox Church in Newhall, Calif., October 2011

At the beginning of this year, as the protests in Egypt that eventually led to the toppling of president Hosni Mubarak were heating up, there were many Coptic Christian Egyptians in Egypt and abroad who were apprehensive, less confident about what might happen in Mubarak's absence than the majority of those in the crowds rallying in Cairo's Tahrir Square.

As a religious minority in a majority-Muslim country, the Copts feared persecution. Now, eight months after Mubarak stepped down, anti-Copt violence has spread and is growing increasingly deadly. It took on new proportions last Sunday, during a protest by Copts in Cairo over the government's failure to investigate an attack on a church stemming by a permitting controversy.

Witnesses said military vehicles sped into the crowd, crushing protesters. Others were shot. Twenty-five people were killed and hundreds injured. The violence has cast a pall on the elation felt months ago by Egyptians at home and abroad. Egyptian immigrants in the United States, once glued to the television as they cheered what they hoped would be the end of the repression many fled, are becoming more accustomed lately to bad news from home.

Are they losing their hope? Yasmin Nouh, the daughter of an Egyptian immigrant, spoke with several Egyptians, Copts and Muslims, living in Southern California. Here is what they had to say:

Hany Tekla, a part-time lecturer of the Coptic language at UCLA, came to the United States from Cairo in 1970. He is president of the St. Shenouda the Archimandrite Coptic Society, which aims to preserve Coptic Christian heritage in Egypt. He had high hopes for the revolution to succeed at its inception, but his hopes have dwindled.

I’m struggling between what I see, what I know that happened, and history. In short, it’s depressing seeing images of cars going over people, crushing them. It renders a person very helpless.

What happened in January was the silent majority woke up and said we won’t take it anymore. But, by their nature, they are usually silent. As for the violent groups, it’s in their nature to keep on going. I would say the revolution was hijacked by these incidents.


Mounir Bishay is the president of Christian Copts of California. A resident of Los Angeles resident, he is planning a rally this Sunday to raise awareness about the violence in Cairo. An immigrant from southern Egypt, he fears that fringe Muslim groups will gain influence over the government, further endangering Copts.
Mubarak had problems but he had a strong hand against the extremists. We thought after the revolution that we Christians would get a better government, but it looks like it’s worse. It will get better when the government is controlled by the civilians.

Dr. Maher Hathout is a retired physician and senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council. He’s written extensively on Islamic law and has been featured in various, prominent news outlets. Sixty years ago, as a young student protester, he partook in demonstrations in Cairo against political repression under the leadership of former president Gamal Abdul-Nasser.
The media is capturing only the voices expressing anger, but the majority of Egyptians have been living peacefully with Copts for centuries. These events are alien to Egypt. We have never been divided like this. The mainstream Egyptians are not having enough voice in this.

Osama Shabaik is the son of Egyptian immigrants, a Muslim who recently graduated from UC Irvine with a Bachelor in International Studies and Economics. He traveled to Cairo last December to study Arabic, staying until June, and while there he witnessed the revolution. During the early days of the protest, he helping his cousins bring food and medicine to Tahrir square. His hopes for the future of Egypt of remain strong, but not without reservations.
The whole idea of a Muslim-Christian line, while mostly insignificant in the past, is still a small crack that you can instigate. The fact that there is a certain type of divide (it happens to be one of the divides in Egyptian society), it can be exploited to create a fear of chaos at the moment in order to justify the continued use of emergency law by the army in my opinion. I think elements of the old regime are behind it.

I’m worried, but after spending time in Egypt and seeing massive amounts of people in the street protesting, fighting for their basic freedoms without necessarily having any ulterior motives, gives me hope that the vast majority of Egyptian people won’t allow the revolution to be co-opted.


Yasmin is an intern at KPCC. She has written several posts for Multi-American, most recently about observing Ramadan in a fast-paced society and the smell of roasted corn during family visits to her father's native Alexandria, Egypt.
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