The Brotherhood's words fail to dispel Christian fears

Yasmine Fathi , Tuesday 22 Mar 2011

The Muslim Brotherhood's attempts to reach out to Copts have only confirmed, in the eyes of analysts and activists, long held suspicions that they intend to restrict their civil participation to the Church


Mohamed Badie, supreme guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, has made a personal call to Pope Shenouda in which he told him that he would like to meet up with Coptic youth to try and address their fears about the role the Brotherhood will play in Egypt’s future.

Indeed, since former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down on 11 February, the Brotherhood have been systematically flexing their political muscle, first by quickly announcing their plans to form a political party and then by heavily campaigning for a
“Yes” vote in last Saturday’s referendum on constitutional amendments. The Brotherhood’s increasing presence in Egypt’s political arena did not go unnoticed by the country’s Copts who have failed to be reassured by repeated claims that they believe in equal citizenship regardless of religion or gender and that their Freedom and Justice Party, currently under formation, is open to all.

So when the Brotherhood launched an initiative last Wednesday to create a coalition made up of a broad spectrum of opposition groups to run as one bloc for legislative elections, an initiative they insisted was a way of assuring Egypt’s various political groups that they do not plan to dominate Egypt’s first post revolution parliament, Coptic activists said that they fear a Brotherhood takeover and what it would mean to them.

“So the supreme guide told them that he is happy to meet with them and immediately called Pope Shenouda and told him about his idea to meet Coptic youth members and try and understand their fears,” says Waleed Shalaby, Badie’s spokesperson. “The invitation is open to all Christians, whether they are Orthodox, Anglican or Catholic.”

Essam El-Erian, a member of the group’s Guidance Bureau, released a statement saying that Badie’s phone call, the first direct contact between the Brotherhood and the Pope, was a reflection of the spirit of national unity created by the January 25 Revolution, adding that Badie’s meeting with Coptic youth will dispel many of their fears.

However, some activists remain sceptical of the Brotherhood’s decision to reach out to the Church in order to get through to the Copts. “I completely reject this initiative by the Brotherhood because to me it confirms the idea of a theocratic state because they are cooperating with the Copts through the church and behaving as if the church represents the Copts politically,” says Kamal Zakher, a Coptic activist. “The church itself never said that it represents the Copts politically. So using the Church as a medium for this means that they are treating it like a political player to represent the Copts, and this transforms the Copts from normal citizens, into subjects or members of a ghetto.”

Zakher added that the initiative is a method of political manoeuvring to try and infiltrate the church.

“They are trying to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Coptic youth through the church, which in my opinion is the real reason behind this initiative,” says Zakher who added that there is a “political error” in the fact that the Brotherhood singled out Coptic youth for dialogue. By doing so they are “treating them as a separate entity to the rest of the Egyptians. If they had ideas they wanted to represent to the country’s youth, what is the point of sending this invitation only to the Copts?"

Shalaby denies these claims. “We are not singling them out, we are mainly dealing with a reality,” he says. “And the reality is Copts are afraid and we simply want to meet up with them to tell them that both Muslim and Christian youth are equal in our eyes.”

Sameh Fawzy, a political analyst and human rights activist, says that political initiatives between any two groups of societies are always beneficial. The problem, as he sees it, with the Brotherhood’s initiative is that it contains double standards.

“First they say they want to meet with Coptic youth through the Church and then El-Erian makes a statement saying that the Brotherhood also wants to meet with Copts outside of the Church,” says Fawzy. “So it is unclear what exactly they are planning, but the old regime used to limit this country’s Christians to the Church and I fear the Brotherhood is going the same way.”

Fawzy adds that while the Brotherhood have announced that the purpose of the initiative is to reassure Copts, there is nothing reassuring about the way they are embarking upon it.

“They are behaving like private teachers, going from place to place giving people lessons telling everyone that it’s going to be ok,” says Fawzy. “It’s great that they want to reassure the Christians, but their words do not make up for a lack of tangible reassurances and rights for the country’s Copts in the Constitution.”

For Fawzy, the main issue at stake is the Brotherhood’s vision of Egypt’s future. The group’s 2007 draft for a civil party, which will be used as a blueprint for their new political party, banned Christians and women from running for president. While this was confirmed shortly after Mubarak stepped down, now various Brotherhood members are retracting their previous statements, saying that they never said a Christian cannot run for president.

“The main issue is why don’t the leftists and other political groups want to reassure the Copts, why is it only the Brotherhood?” asks Fawzy. “It’s because the group’s political program is not very reassuring for the Copts and that in my opinion is the real issue.”

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