Christian in Egypt: ‘They Try to Kill Us’
Egyptian Maher El-Gowhary and his 15 year old daughter Dina never pray twice at the same church, never stay longer than a month in any one apartment. They are constantly under threat, always on the run because they converted to Christianity in a largely Muslim country.
Maher and Dina nervously agreed to meet us at a Church in Cairo. The priest at the Church said he feared problems from the Egyptian authorities and while he agreed to have us watch his Sunday mass, the Priest declined to speak to us about what is happening in Egypt and to the El-Gowhary's.
They tell their story out of fear and desperation. Born Muslims they chose to convert to the Christian Church after both claim they had religious visions.
Now Maher says "Muslims try to kill us, and will kill us if they find us."
Several religious fatwas have been issued for "spilling his blood" after Maher asked an Egyptian Court to legally recognize his conversion, so he can one day be buried as a Christian and so his daughter won't be forced into a marriage by her Muslim mother.
The court ruled a legal conversion to Christianity would threaten public order. His lawyer told us it's a dangerous double standard because in Egypt a Christian can convert to the Muslim faith in a week, but a Muslim cannot convert to the Christian faith.
Ten percent of Egypt is Christian, largely the Coptic Christians who increasingly say they face daunting discrimination and even death.
We had to hide our camera as we followed the El-Gowhary's because we were told if the authorities discovered we were preparing our story we would be arrested.
Religious tensions are running high in Egypt.
On January 6th, the Coptic Christmas eve, three Muslim men sprayed gunfire at a Church in Upper Egypt killing six Christians and wounding up to a dozen more. Christians rioted the next day and the area is still closed to outsiders including the press.
Human rights activist Hussein Bahjet say's Egypt has the potential to become like Lebanon because of growing sectarian violence.
"Civil strife that could engulf the country" Bahjet says.
The U.S. State Department reports respect of religious freedom in Egypt is declining, Christians are denied Government jobs, Priests are threatened and harassed, Christians are increasingly attacks in what State describes as "a climate of impunity that encourages violence."
In some cases authorities turn a blind eye to attacks on Christians, in other cases there is evidence police sparked the attacks.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has been largely silent about the problem, but this week he spoke out saying Egyptians must up-root "fanaticism and sectarianism, which threatens the unit of our nation."
Dina has written a letter to President Obama which has been published on Christian websites. She has been pulled out of school. She has only a blue jean jacket to stay warm and little food to eat. Her letter was a desperate plea. "I wrote that we are a minority Christian Community treated very badly and I want to tell President Obama to tell the Egyptian Government to treat us well."
Her father Mayer says he can't stay in Egypt anymore. He and his daughter are in such grave danger we can't report where they are in Egypt now, or where they are planning on moving tomorrow.
In recent days the two met with the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom in Cairo. They asked for refugee status to get out of Egypt.
A source at the Commission say's its a complicated matter because Dina has a Muslim mother and there are legal issues, but their request is being considered.
The Commission source also says because of religious discrimination in Egypt, last year the State Department down graded Egypt to being on a watch list. This year it could potentially be downgraded further to a Country of particular concern. That means the U.S. might even consider sanctions against a Country which receives some 2 billion dollars in U.S. aid every year.