February 15, 2011

Member of Egypt's Christian minority is optimistic

Owner of Lake Mahopac Pharmacy grew up under dictatorship in Middle East

Nagi Wissa with his wife Paula Chamoun and their four children at Lake Mahopac Pharmacy and Surgical. Wissa, who is an American citizen and a member of the Coptic Christian community, spent his formative years in Egypt before his parents immigrated to the United States when he was a teenager. Photo by: Kristin Maffei.
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The revolution in Egypt has divided foreign policy experts who question whether a true democratic government will emerge after protestors ousted President Hosni Mubarak last week. Some analysts worry that Egypt, which has been an ally of the United States and holds a peace treaty with Israel, might be taken over by the radical group, Muslim Brotherhood.

This is especially worrisome for the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt, which recently was the target of a devastating New Year's Eve bombing of a church in the Egyptian City of Alexandria, which killed 21 people.

But at least one member of Egypt's Christian minority is optimistic that a true democratic revolution has taken place.

Egyptian native Nagi Wissa, who is the pharmacist and owner of Lake Mahopac Pharmacy and Surgical, said he is optimistic that democracy will take hold in Egypt and that members of the Christian faith will be embraced on an equal basis.

"The Christians were asking for equality as citizens of Egypt, in addition to everything the Muslims were asking for," said Wissa, an American citizen who credits his parents for immigrating to the United States when he was a teenager in order to provide more freedom, education and opportunity for him and his sister.

"I remember that a policeman could stop anyone on the street and ask for ID with no reason," Wissa said, recalling his memory of the repressive regime in Egypt. "The Egyptian people want everything that the U.S. offers –freedom of speech, freedom of expression, jobs, salaries, opportunity and reduction in the price of food."

Wissa said the Christian community in Egypt participated in the revolution alongside Muslims, bringing the religious groups together, even as the Christians were also fighting for something further.

Wissa said he suspects that with the advent of true democracy in Egypt, other countries in the Middle East have a high likelihood of following suit.

The revolution affects the United States and Mahopac indirectly, but palpably. Egypt acts as a portal between the east and west, and the Suez Canal is a major pathway between the two. Likewise, the Egyptian economy affects ours, with the stock market feeling the effects of changes in the Egyptian markets. How deeply these changes will affect us has yet to be seen.

Until then, we are left to imagine a democratic Egypt, and all that it will entail. Wissa believes that Egypt has a bright future ahead.

"I see Egypt … being a democratic country, and a role model for the Middle East, full of opportunity for the youth. Better education, more jobs."

Egyptian Christians, he said, will be especially affected.

"They'll have a voice now – to elect a president they feel will be more fair to them," he said. "When people have the freedom to vote, it's a good thing, and that's what all these protests have been about," Wissa said. "There's no going back to dictatorship now. Democracy is a great thing, and freedom is a great thing. I see a beautiful future ahead for the people of Egypt."

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