Mursi faces challenge to bring Egypt´s Copts on side (BBC) British Broadcasting Company) By Muhammad Shukri BBC Monitoring 1 July 2012 Last updated at 14:03 GMT)
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One of the toughest challenges that will face Egypt´s new President,
Mohammed Mursi, will be relations with the country´s Coptic Christian
In the presidential run-off election, Copts, who make up about 10% of
the population, voted overwhelmingly for Mr Mursi´s rival, former
Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq, motivated by concerns about having an
Islamist as head of state.
Since being declared the winner, Mr Mursi has tried to allay their
fears, promising equal treatment for all Egyptians. However, it will
be his actions and not his words that Copts will be keeping a close
Under former President Hosni Mubarak, Copts complained of
Many attended the mass rallies in Cairo´s Tahrir Square, the focus of
the uprising, and there were much was made of the apparent unity
between Christians and Muslims.
However, in the months that followed, Copts began to be worried by
the increasingly vocal and frequent calls from Islamists for the
application of Islamic law, or Sharia, in Egypt. Ultraconservative
Salafist parties even made it the central part of their parliamentary
And when the Muslim Brotherhood´s Freedom and Justice Party, under
the leadership of Mr Mursi, and the Salafist Nour party unexpectedly
won 70% of the seats in the now-dissolved People´s Assembly,
trouncing Egypt´s liberal and secular parties, Copts felt
Mona Makram Obaid, a political science professor, summed up many
Copts´ fears in an article published by the newspaper al-Masri al-
Yawm on Tuesday.
Ms Obaid wrote that Copts started to worry after the emergence of
what she claimed were statements from the Brotherhood and its
Islamist allies about matters such as jizya - a tax that early
Islamic rulers demanded from their non-Muslim subjects - and
the "rejection of the idea of nominating a Copt for the presidency".
"Relations between the two sides got even worse because of the
difference in the stance of a group which was wronged before the
revolution but broke its promises when it became a majority."
The Brotherhood´s promise to introduce the "principle of citizenship
and end all forms of discrimination" had not materialised, she added.
"Copts did not feel that there was seriousness in implementing these
promises in the shape of legislation when the Muslim Brotherhood
majority controlled the legislative branch of power.
"The majority continued with the habits of the former regime, in
terms of intimidation, marginalisation and exclusion, which took
place in the parliament and the constituent assembly [drafting the
new permanent constitution]. Copts were also denied nominations for
various key political roles after the revolution."
Such concerns encouraged Copts to support Mr Shafiq in the
presidential run-off, which served only to upset Islamists,
particularly conservative groups such as Gamaa Islamiya, who were
deeply opposed to a man they considered a "feloul", or "regime
But in his first televised address after being declared president-
elect, Mr Mursi was keen to reassure Copts that their right to
freedom of religion would be protected.
Mursi also met a number of Christian leaders, who congratulated him
on his win.
He told the acting head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Bishop
Bakhomious, and an accompanying delegation that Egyptians were
A spokesman also said a Copt would also be appointed one of Mr
The new president´s promises are likely to be put to the test very
soon, for example when Copts request permission to build new churches
or have their own law of "personal status", which covers matters such
as marriage, divorce, child custody, and inheritance.
Mr Mursi´s vow to name a Coptic vice-president will be judged by the
powers he or she is given.
For instance, the deputy chairman of the Brotherhood´s Freedom and
Justice Party, Rafiq Habib, is a Copt, but for many Egyptians he
seems to be solely a symbolic figure.
Mr Habib rarely appears at any public party activities, and after Mr
Mursi resigned as chairman of the FJP following his election victory,
the party´s other deputy chairman, Issam al-Aryan, was asked to take
charge of the party´s affairs.
The new president is likely to need to fulfil his promises to the
Coptic community, as its fate was the subject of intense
international attention even under the non-Islamist Mubarak regime.
Now that an Islamist is in the driving seat, any incident that leads
to claims of religious discrimination or persecution is likely to
find sympathetic ears.
In this context also, the way in which Mr Mursi deals with Copts may
be relevant when a new Coptic pope is elected in two or three months´
Political thinker Mustafa al-Fiqi said recently in a television
interview: "I think what happened may push the Coptic Church to put
at its head a hardline pope."
Imad Jad, a Coptic political analyst, concurred.
"I think the behaviour of the Muslim Brotherhood and the behaviour of
Mr Mursi in the coming two months will be reflected in the pattern of
the voting," he said.
"If there is a push towards a religious state and a hardline
approach... I think the time will be for a hardline pope... [who]
could be confrontational as well." (© BBC MMXII 07/01/12)
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