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Friday, 28 March 2014

The-Copts’-choice- - Al-Ahram Weekly

Where do Coptic Christians stand on Egyptian politics, asks Michael Adel. 27 March 2014

For many Christians in Egypt, the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) was a reason to feel secure about the future. The imminent nomination of Field Marshal Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi for the presidency has likewise been greeted with satisfaction by church officials as well as laymen. Yet the spectre of fanaticism still looms over the country, as evidenced by recent abductions targeting Copts in the south.

Pope Tawadros II has had no qualms about stating his preference for Egypt’s next president. Calling Al-Sisi’s candidacy a “national duty”, the pope said that many Egyptians see the field marshal as a saviour: the hero of the 30 June Revolution. In a televised statement, the pope passed a grim verdict on the uprisings of the Arab Spring, saying that what they brought to the region was a long “winter” and the opportunity for “evil hands” to split our nations apart.

On a more optimistic note, the pope voiced satisfaction with the country’s political course over the last nine months. “Since the 30 June Revolution, Egypt has steadily pursued a roadmap to the future, one that began with the drafting of the constitution and that will take us through the presidential elections.” For Egyptians, 30 June marked a new beginning in the fight against fanaticism, he added.

“30 June wasn’t a normal day for Egyptians, Muslim or Christian. It saw the birth of a consensus and it was through the glorious solidarity it showed that the country was rid of the MB rule.”

Recalling images of 30 June, the pope said that “the nuns were waving the Egyptian flags next to their hijab-clad sisters at a decisive moment in our history.”

The pope pointed out that the church not only supported the MB’s ouster, but also stood up to western claims that the removal of the Islamists from power was a coup d’etat. “The Egyptian Church took a heroic stand at a time of chaos and hardship. We saw out churches and monasteries destroyed, while the western media falsified the facts and relayed distorted news,” the head of the Coptic Church said. “The church was careful to clarify the facts to western and foreign delegations who visited us after such events.”

Eager to share its views with Christian communities abroad, the Egyptian Church is reaching out to the Russians. Bishop Royce Morcos, secretary general of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral and spokesman of the Alexandria-based churches, said that Pope Tawadros II is planning to visit the Russian Orthodox Church soon. It will be the first visit to Russia by an Egyptian pope in eight years.

At the same time the frequent abductions of Copts in southern Egypt has raised concern among Coptic officials. In the governorate of Minya, ten Coptic citizens including five doctors were kidnapped in less than a week. Although security officials play down the abductions, describing them as “isolated incidents”, the Coptic community is appalled by the phenomenon. Some link the abductions to the ouster of the Islamists, noting that the Copts are once again being scapegoated over political differences (among Muslims).

Gabhat Mostaqbal Al-Saeed (The Upper Egypt Future Front), a Minya-based youth movement, is planning to stage demonstrations next week in protest of the sectarian kidnappings, the most recent of which involved the kidnapping of a four-year-old child, Peter Nagi Farag, in Mallawi. Nearly 100 Christians have been abducted in Minya since 25 January 2011.

According to the Bishopric of Minya and Abu Qorqas, the rate of abductions has recently risen. The Bishop of Minya and Abu Qorqas, Anba Makarius, said that the kidnappings are followed by demands of ransom by the abductors. Those who fail to pay can risk the death of their captive relatives. While concerned over the phenomenon, Church officials don’t feel that protests are the best way to address this crime. The bishop of central Cairo churches, Anba Raphael, pointed out that it would be prudent to refrain from holding Coptic protests.

“We must not focus exclusively on our problems,” he said. According to Anba Raphael, the main problem the Copts face in Egypt is not restrictions on the building of churches but persistent fanaticism. What Egypt needs is not just laws and regulations, but a culture of tolerance and acceptance, he said. Anba Raphael sees no point in current attempts to reach out to the MB. “I don’t see any reason to call for reconciliation with the MB,” he said. “They had their chance and they showed their true colours.”

The secretary general of the Egyptian Council of Churches, Bishop Bishawi Helmy, for his part, is satisfied with the way the country is dealing with its current problems. “Tomorrow will be better than today. Security and military forces are doing their job. And with help from the rest of the nation, we will defeat the terrorists and all such subversive groups,” he remarked. Helmy remains worried about the rise of sectarianism, nonetheless, for which he blames the MB and its Islamist supporters. “Sectarian attacks are now worse than they were in Mubarak’s time,” he said.

Helmy called for bringing the full force of the law on the perpetrators of sectarian attacks. The old methods of reconciling victim and aggressor no longer work, he stated, adding, “We hope to see fair trials.” Coptic judges agree with this assessment. Counselor Amir Ramzy, chief judge of the Shobra Al-Kheima Criminal Court, encouraged the government’s move to allocate special courts for terror-related crimes.

Read more here:
The-Copts’-choice- - Al-Ahram Weekly

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