Egyptian Copts abandon constitution talks, say ‘pointless’ to take part


Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church has said it is “pointless” to take part in talks on a new constitution, saying mounting Islamist domination in the talks has led them to withdraw from the assembly, Egypt’s state news agency said.

The 100-member constitutional assembly selected by the parliament is dominated by Islamists, reflecting their resounding victory in parliamentary elections.

Late on Sunday, the Church announced the decision to withdraw; a move which followed earlier calls by Egyptian liberals to boycott the constitution drafting committee, which is seen as failing to adequately represent the nation’s diversity.

“The Coptic Orthodox Church General Council agreed with the approval of all of the council’s 20 members to withdraw from the constitutional assembly... as it found it was pointless for the church to be represented following the comments made by the national forces about the way the assembly was formed,” the state news agency said, quoting a church statement.

The current constitution was suspended by the country’s army rulers in February of last year shortly after they took power from Egypt’s long-serving autocratic president, Hosni Mubarak.

Coptic Christians, who form Egypt’s biggest minority group and constitute most of Egypt’s 10 percent Christian population, have long had a difficult relationship with the country’s overwhelmingly Muslim majority.

Since Mubarak’s ouster, Christians have become increasingly worried after an upsurge in attacks on churches, which they blame on hardline Islamists, although experts say local disputes are often also behind them.

The death of Coptic Pope Shenouda last month has added to those worries as it left Christians wondering how to make their voices heard as Islamists rose to power.

The new constitution is eagerly awaited by many Egyptians. It is expected to include more freedoms and define rules of the state’s political authorities, including the presidential powers which were absolute during the 30-year-rule of Mubarak.

Many liberal parties, public figures along with the state’s top Islamic authority of al-Azhar have all previously announced their withdrawal from the assembly.

A Muslim Brotherhood MP said on Sunday that the group’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), has drawn up the basic features of the constitution to be drafted by the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, according to Egypt’s Al-Ahram newspaper.

Saad El-Husseini, of the FJP, told the paper that the party has decided that the constitution will be based on the al-Azhar Document and the Democratic Coalition for Egypt Document.

“The Al-Azhar Document, published June 2011, supports ‘the establishment of a modern, democratic and constitutional state’ in Egypt that would observe the separation of powers and guarantee equal rights to all citizens,” the newspaper explains.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Coalition for Egypt, (a coalition of 34 parties, including the FJP and the liberal Wafd Party) issued a document in August 2011 containing what they call “non-binding fundamental guiding principles for the constitution,” a document that “respects plurality and guarantees freedom, justice, equality and equal opportunity for all citizens without bias or discrimination.”

(Additional writing by Eman El-shenawi)