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Coptics Fear Islamists Will Sweep Egypt Elections


It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Renee Montagne.


And I'm Steve Inskeep. Voting has continued into a second day in Egypt. The complicated procedure will actually take weeks. So that means Egyptians will have to wait to learn what a parliamentary election really means for them and their lives. Voter turnout has been high so far, despite protests in the days leading up to the election. Many Egyptians say they are excited to vote in what many feel is the first real election in their lifetimes. But this country includes a large minority of Christians. And among those Coptic Christians, the thrill is mixed with anxiety over a predicted Islamist sweep of many of the seats up for grabs. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reports from the Egyptian city of Alexandria.


SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: The anthem of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party blasts from a campaign truck parked at a polling center in the working class neighborhood of Raml.


NELSON: Voters here shove past each other to get inside to cast ballots for the Brotherhood Party and other Islamist candidates. But Brotherhood officials are leaving nothing to chance. Scores of volunteers like Youssra Dakhakhny fan out across other neighborhoods where Islamist support is less assured.

YOUSSRA DAKHAKHNY: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: She talks to voters lined up outside of a polling center in a middle class enclave near Alexandria's waterfront. What she's doing violates official election rules, but the polling authorities don't stop her.

Nearby, voter Camellia Lufti eyes the Brotherhood volunteer with trepidation. Lufti, who is a Coptic human rights activist and tax inspector, spent years fighting with Egyptian authorities over her teenaged twins' forced conversion to Islam after her husband switched religions.

CAMELLIA LUFTI: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: Lufti she says she fears a Brotherhood win will make life in Egypt even tougher for her minority Christian community, despite the Islamist group's assurances to the contrary. Her fear is shared by many Copts here who already felt under siege even when secularists like Hosni Mubarak were in power. They recall last New Year's Day when about two dozen parishioners leaving an Alexandria church were killed in a bombing.

When Mubarak resigned six weeks later and Islamists emerged as a powerful political force, the Coptic community turned to the Egyptian generals who took over the country for help. But last month, Egyptian soldiers clashed with Coptic protestors in downtown Cairo. At least 27 people were killed, most of them Christians. The attack left Christians like 22-year-old university student Mina Samir feeling that no one in Egypt looks out for them.

MINA SAMIR: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says he no longer trusts the ruling military council, but still prefers the generals to the Islamists. He believes the Muslim Brotherhood will set Egypt back 500 years. Its political leaders across Egypt dismiss such fears as nonsense.

The head of the Giza branch of the Freedom and Justice Party is Amr Darrag, who says that one of his vice-chairmen is Coptic.

AMR DARRAG: There are so many Christians who are convinced with our reference and our way of approaching problems and they are willing to participate with us in our work towards, you know, having better Egypt, okay?


NELSON: At St. George Coptic Church in Alexandria, Nader Gabriel chooses not to worry about the projected Brotherhood victory.

NADER GABRIEL: (Foreign language spoken)

NELSON: He says he works with pious Muslims in his exporting business and has never had a problem. Like every parishioner interviewed here, Gabriel also says he will vote. Most say they will cast ballots for secular Muslims they feel can better protect their interests in Egypt. They add those candidates are stronger than any Coptic ones. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Alexandria. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Special correspondent Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is based in Berlin. Her reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and read at From 2012 until 2018 Nelson was NPR's bureau chief in Berlin. She won the ICFJ 2017 Excellence in International Reporting Award for her work in Central and Eastern Europe, North Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan.