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The Muslim Brotherhood and the Coptic Pope

Elias Harfoush

Published: Updated:
Among the suggestions offered by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in Egypt to the new Coptic pope to be included in his action program to run the Church, was a call to “support the Islamic Shariaa,” to “let go of the seculars”, and to “revoke the Church’s political role.” When the MB call on the new pope – who is a Christian religious official – to support the Islamic Shariaa, this is supposed to represent a call to him to step away from the main task that his people have elected him to perform. This also reveals how the MB view the people of Egypt and indicates that they are incapable of accepting the other Egyptians for what they are, whether they are Christians or Muslims; secular or religious. In addition, the action program that the MB suggested to the pope reflects the role that the MB expect the Egyptians, both Muslims and non Muslims, to play at this point.

Strangely, as the MB direct this call at the new pope, we learn that the latter prefers to distance the Church from politics as a result of his religious background. In addition, he was a bishop in the Bahira governorate and he was thus able to build good relations with the Muslim Brotherhood, whose supporters constitute a majority in that governorate.

One more reason that causes astonishment is that this statement was issued by a group whose main and only job is to mix religion with politics, sometimes to the extent of assessing the feelings of national belonging on the basis of the MB’s special classification pertaining to the soundness of religious belonging. In this case, how can the MB ask the man in charge of the Copts in Egypt to distance religion from politics while this group’s politics and statements are on the complete opposite bank?

In the new atmosphere prevailing in Egypt today, the election of Pope Tawadros II is supposed to constitute a good beginning for a relationship between the Copts and the new Islamic regime. But in order for this beginning to be achieved, there is a need for good and honest intentions on the part of both sides away from the formalities and the courtesy calls that are usually not what they seem to be. In addition, there is a need for an atmosphere of national security in the realm of a state that is capable of protecting all its citizens on a fair basis; and on overcoming the repugnant talk about the majority and the minority when the people of the same country are concerned.

When such an atmosphere is made available in Egypt, as well as anywhere else, then the call directed at the pope – to revoke the Church’s political role – becomes logical. For the pope and other religious leaders to abstain from interfering in the political affairs and to leave this matter to the politicians is a good thing. However, the political officials must not force the pope and the Coptic Church to interfere in order to protect the Copts and to shield them against injustice. When the state takes this responsibility upon itself, and when it treats all its citizens equally by providing them with their rights without any distinction, then it becomes logical to call on the pope to tend to the matters of his Church and to stay away from the political business. In this sense, one Coptic figure was very eloquent when he said yesterday that the lack of citizenship in the state is forcing the Coptic citizens to knock on the door of the Church, which has become their last resort.

The Arab Spring was supposed to constitute the beginning for closing down the issue of the citizenship rights and the talk about the majority and the minority in the countries that experienced that spring including Egypt… or so we hope. Therefore, we hope that the “action program” that the MB ran by the Coptic pope was a mere slip of the tongue. We also hope that President Mohammad Morsi will rectify this error and that he will deal with the pope’s election as a good opportunity for establishing a good relationship between the Egyptian state and its Coptic citizens without forcing them to modify their convictions in order to be accepted as equal citizens.

(The writer is a columnist for al-Hayat, where this article was first published Nov. 7, 2012)
Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.