Copts fear Islamic state and say ‘No’ to constitutional amendments

Wael Eskandar, Friday 18 Mar 2011

In light of recent events, the dormant fears of an Islamic state have come to life once again particularly for the Christian minority in Egypt.

Copts at Maspero
Copts on top of a tree protesting at Maspero. Photo by Violeta America Rosales

The threat from radical Islamists has long been cultivated by the regime, but with the demolition of most other political parties, the Muslim Brotherhood has become a force to be reckoned with. After years of being sidelined and marginalised, Copts and many of Egypt’s Christians have long been passive in the country’s political life. However many see that it’s time to act by voting “No” to constitutional amendments in the 19 March referendum.

Mena Waguih is a Copt in his thirties working for a famous multinational company and fears that the Islamic state has already arrived. “There is a dream of an Islamic state not just for extremists but for pious Muslims. I’m not talking about this dream fulfilled by the Muslim Brotherhood; I’m talking about radical Islamism in general.”

Tens of Christians from different denominations who spoke to Ahram Online expressed their fears of the Muslim Brotherhood taking power and an Islamic state.

The army’s position on a number of issues continues to feed these fears. The army’s attacks on Anba Beshoy monastery on 23 February have raised many concerns over the army’s dedication to equal rights. In addition, the handling of the situation in Soul raised even more concerns.

“Instead of solving the problem through civil laws, the army brought in Islamic preachers that border on the extreme to tell people what to do,” says Rami who attended the Maspero sit-ins last week.

Ussama, a Coptic Christian in his late twenties from Assiut, raises other concerns, “Why has the military released Aboud El-Zomor and meets with him while an activist like Amr El-Behairy was sentenced to five years imprisonment on bogus charges? Not to mention that Safwat El-Sherif, Fathy Sorour and Zakaria Azmi roam free despite overwhelming evidence of political corruption against them.”

The violent dispersion of the Maspero sit-in did not help build trust, however it was expected by the protesters anyway.

“As soon as we leave, the army will block us in and will start attacking us,” Rami told Ahram Online on the night before the protesters were violently dispersed. 17 Copts have been detained by the army since the sit-in started at Maspero for no good cause according to the protesters. So far only 3 have been released.

“Why did the army change the constitutional committee?” asks Sameh Monir, a man in his forties protesting the attacks on village of Soul at the Maspero sit-in. “Why did they include a member of the Muslim Brotherhood in the committee charged with amending the constitution?”

Over 30 protesters interviewed at the Maspero sit-in before its suspension and the subsequent violent evacuation were unanimous in their stance against the constitutional amendments.  This time Christians are willing to fight till the last drop at the voting booths.

The reasons extend beyond the reform committee.

Amal, a Christian protestant in her late sixties, believes that there is not enough time to hold parliamentary elections.

“If the answer [to the referendum] is ‘Yes’, it will mean the Muslim Brotherhood gaining a majority of seats in parliament. This is the biggest step towards an Islamic state. Christians will have no place in the country. I would consider moving to another country but my finances are tied up in real estate,” says Amal.

Coptic churches across the country share the same concerns of their people and have urged members to take an active part in the referendum.

Mona, a Coptic housewife in her fifties, claims that “the changes that mandate two terms of presidency and judicial oversight were never in question, but the changes are engineered so that Egypt’s scientists abroad could never get the chance to be president.”

Mona sees no problem of giving up one nationality on being president. “What’s all this nonsense about having no foreign wife? What do romance and feelings have to do with the presidency?”

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