Egypt calls Christmas a public holiday – News
The January 7 Christmas for Coptic Christians was unique this year in Egypt after President Hosni Mubarak declared it a national holiday. Only Muslim holidays had been national ones, and previously only Copts were allowed to take the day off on Christmas.
While some Copts reacted to Mubarak’s decision with indifference, others said it reflected a deeper meaning for them. “It makes a big difference,” said Tamer Besada, a cafeteria employee. “[It means] that Christianity [in Egypt] is getting its rights,” he said. Egyptian Copts generally live peacefully with their Muslim neighbors, but there have been incidents of sectarian violence, and some Copts complain of discrimination.
Christians make up about 10 percent of the predominantly Muslim Egyptian population. For the Coptic Church, an independent branch of Oriental Orthodoxy, Christmas Day ends a 45-day fast that many Egyptian Copts observe.
Hanaa Sarwat, a college graduate and a Coptic Christian, traveled nine hours by train from Upper Egypt to visit some of the oldest churches in the world. “It is one of my happiest days,” she said as she stood next to the wooden door leading into a small, ancient chapel tucked away in Old Cairo. Dozens of shoes were scattered in front of the door, which is more than 21 feet high and dates to the tenth century.
Tahani Samir Sadek, a government employee, said the president’s holiday decision would eliminate the negative feelings a few of her Muslim co-workers had before when they worked while she took the day off. “It will create more harmony and closeness,” said George Louis, a teacher, as he sat inside the chapel.–RNS
COPYRIGHT 2003 The Christian Century Foundation
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