“I miss my friends. I miss my country. I want to go home, but I can’t,” she blurted, clutching a tissue in her fist. “I love Egypt, and I feel so bad for everyone there. I just feel so bad.”
Despite the upbeat camp spirit, the mood last week at St. Mark, a spiritual and political nerve center for the region’s large Egyptian Christian community, was one of deepening gloom and rising panic in the wake of elections in Egypt that propelled a member of the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi, to the presidency. He was sworn into office Saturday.
Everyone at the church seemed to have friends and relatives who were trying to leave Egypt. Parents picking up their kids said they were bracing for an Islamic takeover of their homeland. Church officials said there had been a steady stream of newcomers seeking help or coming to Arabic Masses. One man who arrived from Cairo three weeks ago, reached by a church counselor on a cell phone, nervously told his story through an Arabic translator.
“I am going to apply for asylum and get my family out as soon as I can,” said the man, 34, who gave his name only as Zekry. “The Islamists are taking over, and disaster is coming very soon.”
In the past several months, he said, he had been threatened for sheltering Muslims who converted to Christianity, and his wife had been harassed for not wearing a veil when she went to pay their Internet bill. “The clerk told her, ‘Next time come back with your head covered. Your time is over,’ ” he said.
For Egyptian Americans, the turbulent election 9,000 miles away was far more than a subject of heated but theoretical debate. Highly educated and politicized, their community is deeply involved with homeland politics. On Arabic Dish channels, they have followed every twist of the turbulent 16 months since the popular uprising in Cairo’s Tahrir Square.
Moreover, 27,000 longtime emigres are dual citizens or U.S. residents registered to vote in Egyptian elections. Last month, nearly half of them cast absentee ballots – about 3,000 at the Egyptian embassy in Washington and thousands more at consulates in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston.
The choice, many Coptic Christian immigrants said, came down to the lesser of two evils. One of the final candidates was Ahmed Shafiq, a former cabinet minister for the ousted regime of President Hosni Mubarak that had oppressed religious minorities for 30 years. The other was Morsi, a conservative member of the Muslim Brotherhood, which had been an aggressive anti-Christian force in Egypt for just as long.
Among exiled voters in the United States, Shafiq won with 75 percent of the ballots. But in Egypt, Morsi won with more than 51 percent.