For those of you who are Coptic or are familiar with the situation in Egypt, how are things day to day for Coptic Christians? I spoke with a Copt today who stated that relatively speaking, the persecition isn't as widespread as people in the West are making it out to be. She stated that things are relatively calm and Copts can practice their religion freely. I was curious as to the reality of the situation. Any insight would be appreciated.
Depends on where you live in Egypt. In the cities where there are more educated people, it's fairly peaceful, although not without tension. In poorer areas and villages, there is where the crime may usually happen, although the cities are also not immune at occasion. Either way, there is always tension. Egyptians are most peaceful and in unity when it comes to national issues as a whole. But when there's no impending national issues that occupies the minds of people, then religious tensions tend to resurface.
Recently, His Eminence Metropolitan Bishoy made some statements about Egyptian Muslims and the Quran that inflamed many Muslims and called for his resignation and arrest, as well as giving a reason for the priests' wifes' issues to resurface. And many of you might have heard about Al Qaeda's threat against the Coptic Church when that Iraqi Catholic Church was bombed. Interestingly enough, the fact that Al Qaeda threatened the Coptic Church actually gave a reason for Egypt (via media support and higher government officials) to unite again and support the Coptic minority (since they are technically anti-Al Qaeda, and Muslims were forced to show some public support of protection via its anti-terrorist policy).
Pretty much, to be quite honest, anywhere there's an Islamic majority, unfortunately there is really no peace for non-Muslims, or Muslims who doubt their faith. To question the Quran or the Prophet Muhammed is a capital offense. We as Copts are always on the defensive when Muslims attack the beliefs of the Coptic Church, while we are careful not to offend their religion for the sake of peace. Of course, there are those who the Coptic Church does not publicly endorse that are on the offensive against Islam, but for the most part, it's truly an issue of survival and tension, along with jealousy (especially if a Coptic Christian is on a level of success higher than a fellow Muslim). And when it comes to political issues lately, HH Pope Shenouda has been very careful to approach them in wisdom and peace, and maintaining a friendship with Muslim Egyptians as brothers of the nation despite the tensions. This should be commendable, as his actions not only affect the Coptic Church, but other non-Orthodox denominations in Egypt and sometimes outside of Egypt in the Arabic world. Some things he decreed, did, or say may not be agreeable, even to me, but for the most part, His Holiness still maintains excellent leadership.
The recent clash concerning the Church in Giza was about claims that the permit to build there was not for a Church but for a "service center," but the people who have been begging for a Church to be built there for so long had no choice but to make it a prayer center that they may get together and pray. This is an example of the government making it hard for Christians to build churches (or to even fix them) without proper permit. Meanwhile, it is very easy for Muslims to build mosques even in places where Islamic population may be very small to provide for the mosque, sometimes, right next to a Church just for nuisance's sake.
So again, you're not going to see a Sudanese style of genocide, but a "tinderbox" perpetually exists between Christians and Muslims in Egypt. If the world turns a blind eye, it can be worse.