Hope and Unrest in Egypt

egypt-crossReligious representatives from Egypt speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) expressed the hope for a positive development in the crisis-ridden country following the fall from power of the Muslim Brother Mohamed Mursi.

The Coptic-Catholic Bishop of Asyut in Upper Egypt, Kyrillos William, told ACN on Tuesday, July 9, that he regretted the many victims claimed on Monday morning in Cairo by the clashes between the army and supporters of the toppled President Mursi.

According to reports, there are more than 50 dead and hundreds of injured. “It’s sad,” the Bishop said.

In the meantime Bishop Kyrillos has expressed his hope that the situation would calm down.

“There will not be a civil war,” the bishop asserted. “Who would fight against whom? The people have no reason to do so.”

“I can’t discount the possibility of single acts of violence by the Muslim Brothers, however,” the bishop continued. “But the army and the police are too strong.”

The appointment of the head of government on Tuesday showed that the situation was slowly beginning to normalize and the political transition was taking shape.

“Life in general is carrying on as usual for most people in Egypt,” the bishop explained.

With regard to the Muslim Brotherhood, Bishop Kyrillos said that no one had been excluded from the political process. “The Muslim Brotherhood has been invited to take part in the national reconciliation.”

The head of the Coptic-Catholic Church, Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak, had stated previously to Aid to the Church in Need on Friday in Cairo that the deposition of the Egyptian President Mursi last week was something between a military coup and a second revolution by the people.

“The military had not seized power. Furthermore, the people wanted a change and asked the military to help. Fortunately our army is on the side of the people. Egypt is not Syria,” the Patriarch continued.

Mursi had not been able to fulfill the expectations set. “My impression was that he was not prepared for this task. I think one of the main problems was also that Mursi was not really President. He had a President, namely the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, and other people in this international society. It’s from them that he had received his instructions,” the Patriarch believed.

When asked about his hopes for the new Egyptian constitution Patriarch Ibrahim said, “My hope is for a civil government which guarantees the freedom of every individual.”

On the other hand, the Church leader discounted a relationship between state and church based on the French model. “We are a country dominated by religion. The majority are of the Islamic or Coptic-Orthodox faith. This must be properly taken into account.”

The Patriarch also made a forceful plea for changes in the approval procedure for Christian church buildings. “I think an application for building a church should be treated like any other construction application. The building regulations must be satisfied. But then that should be an end to it.”

Currently, the State President decides on a permit. It can often take ten years or more for an answer to come.

Patriarch Ibrahim was confident about the future of the country: “If Egyptians just want it, then they can overcome the economic and political problems. Since the revolution of January 25, 2011, we have experienced events which would not have been considered possible before. In view of this, I’m optimistic.”

The Coptic-Orthodox Bishop of Qussia in Upper Egypt, Bishop Thomas, defended the army’s toppling of President Mursi. He stressed to ACN on Sunday, July 7: “It was not a coup d’état, but a revolution by the people. We are happy that the army has taken over. The Christians suffered under the Muslim Brothers.”

Bishop Thomas described how, compared to the times under the former head of state Mubarak, prosecutions under the blasphemy laws had increased significantly. “Within one year, we have had many cases,” said the Bishop.

Furthermore many Christians had been abducted by Islamists to extort ransom money from them. Time and again, there were violent attacks on Christians and their institutions and a lack of protection. Complaints made to the police following incidents with Islamist motives remained fruitless.

“On top of all this, the Muslim Brothers have given the green light,” Bishop Thomas said. “Now, since they have been removed from power, the Muslim Brothers threaten us directly.”

“We Christians are an easy target for Islamist extremists,” the bishop continued. “The terrorist threats by extremist groups will continue. Our situation will only improve as a whole with the stabilization of the security situation in Egypt.”

Despite the present problems such as attacks on Christians and their institutions, the bishop said he was optimistic as far as the future of Christians in Egypt was concerned. “I hope for a change for the better.”

The bishop described political religion such as the Islamism of the Muslim Brothers, as not a solution to Egypt’s problems. Rather, it was necessary to develop an awareness that democracy was more than the rule of the majority.

“The majority coming to power through elections have a responsibility to protect the rights of all.”

With this in mind, Bishop Thomas wished that the new Egyptian constitution would embody the principle of a civil state. “The constitution must express the equality of all Egyptians, Christians as well as Muslims, before the law.”

A representative of Cairo’s Azhar University expressed a similar sentiment to Aid to the Church in Need. Mahmoud Azab, adviser to the Grand Sheikh for inter-religious dialogue, told ACN on Sunday in Cairo: “We do not want an Islamic state in Egypt. This is the position of the Azhar University, and one we have propounded on a number of different occasions.”

This, Azab continued, was also the principal difference to the Islam of the Muslim Brothers and other Islamists. “We want to have a democratic and modern national and constitutional state in Egypt. Muslims and Christians must have the same rights based on citizenship.”

The representative of the Azhar University, the leading authority of Sunni Islam, stressed at the same time that his institution also did not wish to have a separation of religion and state such as exists in France, for example. “The French secularism cannot be applied in Egypt.”

This would mean, for example, that questions of civil status would have to be regulated for Muslims by sharia and for Christians by the precepts of their Church.

Mr. Azab rejected a fundamentalist interpretation of sharia, and also condemned acts of violence perpetrated against Christians. “That is contrary to Islam.”

Instead, he insisted that dialogue and respect would have to be the basis for dealing with the different social groups in Egypt.

Directly under the Holy Father, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity - helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action. Founded in 1947 by Father Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An Outstanding Apostle of Charity,” the organization is now at work in over 145 countries throughout the world. The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, 43 million Aid to the Church in Need Child’s Bibles have been distributed worldwide. For more information contact Michael Varenne at michael@churchinneed.org or call 718-609-0939 or fax718-609-0938. Aid to the Church in Need, 725 Leonard Street, PO Box 220384, Brooklyn, NY 11222-0384. www.churchinneed.org
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