On one hand, the images of Egyptian Christians and Muslims protesting together against President Hosni Mubarak are incredibly stirring -- from Christian protesters "shielding" their Muslim counterparts during their prayers:
...to mothers bearing their message of unity:
Flags, homemade signs and t-shirts emblazoned with both the image of a cross and crescent appeared in the vigils following the New Year's bombing of a Coptic church and are becoming all the more visible in Cairo's current political protests.
“There isn't a religious distinction,” said Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald -- the Vatican's nuncio to Egypt -- in an article from Catholic News Agency. “They are not dividing themselves into Christians and Muslims, they're just the Egyptian citizens.”
Later in the article, a professor at the American University of Cairo related an example:
“This is a revolution guided by the middle-high class which is asking before all for political and religious freedom,” Wael Farouq, a Muslim and a professor at the American University of Cairo told the Milan based on-line daily, Il Sussidiario.net Jan. 31.
“The fundamentalists will not take control of the revolt,” Farouq said. “What is happening in these days demonstrates that the true enemy of religious liberty in Egypt is the Mubarak regime, which seeks to divide Christians and Muslims to control the country."
... “At a certain point, one person tried to shout one of their slogans, ‘Islam is the solution,’ and was immediately chased from the area. Others … contested them … with these words: ‘We are Egyptians, not Muslims.’ A Christian carried a cross with him, and as soon as the other protesters realized it, they were happy and they raised it over their back, holding it high out of appreciation. I can tell you this because I saw it with my own eyes."
But will those feelings of solidarity remain in a post-Mubarak Egyptian society?
Earlier this week, Pew re-released a poll conducted last spring in Muslim countries on the role of Islam in politics. Then, 84 percent of Egyptian Muslims said they supported the death penalty for those who left the Muslim religion. Out of the seven Muslim nations polled, only Jordan responded with greater severity toward such "apostates" of Islam.
And despite the showings of interreligious solidarity against the Mubarak regime, former U.N. Ambassador John Bolton warned that a new government led by the Muslim Brotherhood would only give Coptic Christians a new set of fears for their freedoms.
“The overthrow of the Mubarak regime will not by any sense of the imagination lead to the advent of Jeffersonian democracy,” Bolton told the Daily Caller. “The greater likelihood is a radical, tightly knit organization like the Muslim Brotherhood will take advantage of the chaos and seize power. It is really legitimate for the Copts to be worried that instability follow Mubarak’s fall and his replacement with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
As we hope for a peaceful transition of power in Egypt, foremost in our prayers should also be a greater protection of religious freedoms for Egypt's minority populations. The momentum for change has brought with it exciting and hopeful signs of greater trust between the nation's Muslims and Christians. The question is whether or not that respect for differing religions continues to be a hallmark under a new Egyptian government.
-- Elizabeth Hansen