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Coptic Christians in Tampa Bay gather to pray for Egypt

BY JOSH BOATWRIGHT
Tribune staff

Published:   |   Updated: July 13, 2013 at 11:19 PM

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CLEARWATER - Dina Masoud didn't shy away from speaking her mind in public at her church in Cairo.

But following the June 30th revolution in Egypt to depose President Mohammed Morsi, Masoud began getting threats on her life.

Now she's one of many Coptic Christians who have fled the country because of the threat of violence from militants who support the toppled regime.

She joined her brethren Saturday at St. Mary & St. Mina Coptic Orthodox Church in Clearwater to pray for fellow Christians in Egypt who have been targets of violence in recent weeks.

The congregants who gathered from Syrian, Lebanese and Greek churches throughout the Tampa Bay Area said their prayers for Egypt go beyond just suffering Christians.

"We want to pray so that God helps Egypt - everybody in Egypt," said Raouf Iskander, a member of St. George Coptic Orthodox Church in Tampa.

Iskander visited his brother in Alexandria in the week before the revolution. He described endless lines at gas stations and shortages of water and other basic staples.

While persecution by the radical Muslim Brotherhood political party has intensified during Morsi's time in office, job shortages and insecurity are affecting all Egyptians, said Ashraf Assad, who has family in Cairo.

"This time really is different because it's not only Christians this time; it's like Muslims, too, are suffering," said Assad, who lives in Land O'Lakes.

"And I pray for them, too, because they're in the same boat as us."

Saturday's prayer service was organized by Coptic Christians Against Persecution, a Tampa-based group that helps asylum seekers get resettled in the bay area.

Ashraf Assad's brother, Dr. William Assad, says his group helps about 10 new families each week who have fled Egypt.

He says Morsi has encouraged the brotherhood to threaten Coptic Christians in Egypt, a minority group that represents about 10 percent of the population.

"They know the easiest thing is to cause violence against the Coptics because Copts are not going to fight back," said Assad, a Tampa oncologist.

When the wave of protests against Morsi began on June 30, Brotherhood media depicted it as dominated by Christians - and to hard-liners, it smacked of Christians rising up against a Muslim ruler.

Since then, there's been a string of attacks against Christians, including a priest who was killed in a drive-by shooting.

William Assad has two brothers in Cairo who no longer let their children play on the streets and Christians must travel in groups to church.

U.S. Rep. Gus Bilirakis vowed at Saturday's service to do everything in his power to protect the rights of Christians and other minority religions in the Egypt and the Middle East.

"These communities who have lived for generations in their ancestral homelands are now living in fear for their lives," said Bilirakis.

"This is unacceptable."

jboatwright@tampatrib.com

727-215-1277

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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