Egypt's new Coptic pope speaks out on range of issues

Sherry El-Gergawi, Thursday 8 Nov 2012

Newly-elected Coptic Pope Tawadros II gives his opinion on host of issues, including role of the church, visits to Jerusalem, parliamentary quotas for Copts and Egypt's draft constitution, among others

Pope Tawadros II
Egypt's new Coptic pope, Tawadros II (Photo: courtesy of

Egypt's new Coptic Orthodox pope, Tawadros II, elected earlier this week, has been interviewed by several private television channels, in which he spoke frankly about a number of critical issues facing Egypt's Coptic-Christian community.

For one, Tawadros has stressed that the church has "no political role," as this should be reserved for Egypt's political parties. The church, he said, should only play a "spiritual and social role," noting that overlaps between the two could potentially lead to disturbances within society.

Tawadros has also stressed his agreement with late pope Shenouda III's decision to ban Egypt's Copts from visiting Jerusalem until the issue of Palestine has been justly resolved.

"There's a peace treaty between the governments [of Egypt and Israel], but the Egyptian public rejects the notion of normalisation with Israel," he said. "We won't encourage Copts to visit Jerusalem, as we can't accept the idea of Copts selling out the Arab cause."

Pope Tawadros II has also voiced his rejection of a parliamentary quota for Coptic MPs.

"Rather, we must gradually prepare Egyptian society, with the support of political parties, to accept Coptic parliamentarians – only 30 in the beginning, perhaps, before gradually increasing the percentage of Coptic representatives," he said.

Regarding Egypt's controversial draft constitution, he said: "The constitution should be written for all Egyptians, despite their religious affiliations. The church will oppose any constitutional article that only takes into account the interests of the Muslim majority."

When asked about the church's controversial 1938 bylaws – which lay down rules governing Coptic divorce and remarriage – Pope Tawadros II asserted: "Everything is open for discussion, especially since these bylaws were written by secularists and not clergymen. We must find solutions to satisfy critics, but not at the expense of biblical teachings."

On the issue of church-building, the Coptic patriarch said: "I don't understand why building churches is so difficult. I'm sure that passing a unified law for building churches will hinder extremists from trespassing on church lands as happened last Monday, when a group of Salafist Muslims occupied church land in Cairo's Shubra Al-Kheima district."

Regarding the relationship between the church and the administration of President Mohamed Morsi, Tawadros II said: "The president was democratically elected by the Egyptian people, and is therefore the president of all Egyptians and a symbol of post-revolution Egypt. The church will deal with him with love as it always has." 

Tawadros II sees "no need to fear" Egypt's new Islamist leadership, as long as it "rules with justice." He added that Egypt's revolution was "not over," saying: "It's only been two years; revolutions require longer periods to achieve their objectives."

Tawadros also noted that Copts had emigrated from Egypt because "they are afraid," stressing that Egyptian society should provide them with reasons to stay. But he added that Coptic emigration represented an "individual decision."

He also delivered a message to the nation's Coptic-Christians, saying: "Egypt is our beloved homeland in which Jesus lived, so it is very precious."

As for the forced displacement of Egyptian Copts, he said: "The state should protect all of its citizens, Christian and Muslim alike."

As for the church's controversial 1957 bylaws, which regulate papal elections, the pope promised to amend them within one year of assuming the papacy.

For years, critics have called for the papal electorate to be widened to include Coptic laypeople of different professions, such as doctors, lawyers and engineers. Critics would also like to see all Coptic priests given a vote in the papal poll, which is not currently the case.

Pope Tawadros II has welcomed Morsi's anticipated attendance of his ordination ceremony, set to take place at St Mark's Coptic Cathedral in Abassiya, Cairo, on 18 November.

"This will be the first papal ordination ceremony in Coptic history to be attended by Egypt's president," the new pope said. "We really appreciate this, and hope that the president leads the country for the good of all its citizens."

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