While he disagrees with the Brotherhood on doctrine and couldn’t really defend the group’s many broken promises, Salah said the end goal of an Islamic state justified the “political games” that he says the Islamists are forced to play for now.
His months of selling T-shirts in the square have earned him friends, even “brothers,” from among the rival liberal camps, Salah said, but their hysterics over Islamists taking power make them sound like sore losers.
“If Egyptians had voted for a majority of liberals in Parliament, we’d keep quiet. But they didn’t – they voted for Islamists,” Salah said. “Why don’t we respect the will of the people?”
Marcelino Youssef, a 45-year-old electrician, was just a boy when he first heard fellow villagers single him out because of his religion: “Don’t play with him – he’s Christian.”
Youssef said the discrimination continued in high school, where he and other Coptic Christians were asked to leave during religion class, and in his service to the military, when Muslim conscripts refused to eat with him in the mess hall.
There was no letup in the slights related to his faith, he said, until the day he joined the protests in Tahrir Square and stood alongside Egyptians of all backgrounds to demand Mubarak’s fall He cherishes a photograph that shows a close-up of his hand, tattooed with a cross, as he poured water so that Muslim protesters could wash before praying.
“I was crying. I finally felt that I was close to achieving a dream,” Youssef recalled. “Imagine someone who’s been in prison for years for no reason and then he’s told that, tomorrow, he’ll be free.”
But that long-awaited euphoria evaporated in a matter of weeks.
The security vacuum after the fall of the regime ushered in a wave of attacks on the vulnerable Copts. Extremists torched and besieged churches, and violence came from the state, too. Youssef was among hundreds who were wounded when security forces attacked a peaceful Christian protest; an army personnel carrier crushed his foot as it rampaged through the crowd.
Then came the power grab by the Islamists, whose messages of national unity gave way to talk of turning Egypt into an Islamist state, with no clear role defined for the Coptic minority, which traces its roots to the first century.
Youssef said he found no true allies of the Copts among the leading presidential candidates, so, grudgingly, he plans to cast his ballot for Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak’s last prime minister, as the lesser of evils. He prefers a couple of the more liberal and revolutionary candidates, he said, but he doesn’t think they stand a chance against the Islamists.
“They had a strategy all along: They called it ‘participating,’ but it was really ‘taking over,’ ” Youssef said. “Truly, I wouldn’t even care if the Muslim Brotherhood’s supreme leader himself became president, on one condition: that we and the Muslims are equal.”
Picking a president, Youssef said, is an easy choice compared with the greater dilemma he and other Copts face as they come to grips with a new Islamist ruling elite. He’s so worried for the future of his 9-year-old son, his only child, that he entered the U.S. green card lottery even though it pains him to consider leaving Egypt.