Cairo, Asharq Al-Awsat – Signs of alarm are appearing on the Egyptian political scene regarding the possibility of a Mursi presidency, particularly as the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate has already claimed victory, a move followed by his election rival former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. Egypt’s Christians fear that an Islamist president will restrict their religious freedoms and clamp down on Egypt’s Coptic community, which make up around 10 percent of Egyptian society.
However Coptic Church sources, speaking to Asharq Al-Awsat on the condition of anonymity, revealed that the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria is awaiting the final presidential election results that are scheduled to be announced on Thursday, adding that it will respect the ballot box and the public will, and does not fear the presidency of any candidate.
The source added that Coptic fears of an Islamist president are unjustified, asserting that Egypt’s recently dissolved parliament had been controlled by Islamists and this did not result in the religious freedom of the Copts being restricted or limited in any way. The Coptic Church source stressed that the Egyptian Coptic community are part of the social fabric of Egypt, and they are afforded the same rights and freedoms as all Egyptian citizens, and any reduction of these rights will only result in social unrest and instability.
Bishop Pachomoius, who is the acting Coptic Pope following the death of Pope Shenouda III earlier this year, has asserted the importance of building a progressive civil state based on active citizenship.
However such talk has failed to calm many in Egypt’s Coptic community who fear the prospect of an Islamist presidency. Egyptian Copt Mina Samir, aged 27, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that she is contemplating emigrating should Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mursi win the presidential elections. She stressed that “I am afraid about the coming period, and I am sure that freedoms – particularly religious freedoms – will be restricted with the inauguration of a Muslim Brotherhood affiliated president” adding “this also raises fears regarding the prospects of a civil state.”
Egypt’s Coptic community suffered under the Mubarak regime, which prohibited them from building Coptic Churches. They hoped that supporting the Egyptian revolution would see a move towards a civil, democratic and pluralistic state; however such hopes appear dashed with a choice between a Muslim Brotherhood president or the last prime minister of the Mubarak era.
For her part, Mary Munib, aged 21, an Egyptian Copt working in the media, informed Asharq Al-Awsat that she is ambivalent regarding a Mursi or Shafiq presidency. Munib stressed that “the situation now is different, for now president will be able to take unilateral decisions to discriminate between citizens.”
She added “I do not think anybody will be able to restrict my religious or personal freedoms, for I am an Egyptian citizen and I know my rights and duties.”
Speaking prior to the Egyptian presidential run-off, Bishop Passanty, the Bishop of Helwan and Maasara and a member of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church, stressed that “if you are elected president, remember all that you have said – the Christians have the same duties and rights that Muslims have…if you abide by this, we would respect you as the president of Egypt and welcome the Islamic rule that would establish a civil state with equal citizenship rights for all Egyptians.”
There have been several sectarian clashes in Egypt following the ouster of the Mubarak regime, including a group of Salafist Muslims attempting to burn down a Coptic Church in Cairo, leaving one dead and many more wounded. There have also been a number of other sectarian clashes across Egypt, including the now-infamous protests during which Coptic Christians came out to protest and were strongly suppressed by the Egyptian military. These incidents demonstrate the uncertain sectarian features of post-revolution Egypt and have served to fuel fear and anger following the ouster of Mubarak.