Egypt’s Copts fear success of Islamist groups in election

01 December 2011

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

COPTS and other Christian com­munities in Egypt fear that the unexpectedly large turnout in the first of the three rounds of voting in parliamentary elections will be translated into a resounding success for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party. Other parties representing more conserva­tive Islamists — Salafis and Jihadis — are also likely to fare better than had been thought.

“The signs are very worrying,” a schoolteacher in Alexandria, Gabriel Ghali, said. “We are all worrying about what the huge queues will mean in terms of the votes cast, and we suspect it will mean a victory for the Islamic groups — and that’s bad news for us.”

Tens of thousands of Christians have emigrated since the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak regime, and the outbreak of attacks on mem-bers of the community and their property.

For the country as a whole, how­ever, the army’s gamble — to press ahead with the elections, despite the continuing protests against military rule — appears to have paid off. The public’s enthu­siasm for taking part in the first free and fair elec­tions in the country’s history was obvious, even before polling stations opened on Monday morning.

As expected, the complicated voting procedure caused confusion, slowing down the voting process and contributing to the queues outside. Many of the parties com­peting in the poll are unfamiliar to voters, who are also being asked to choose from a list of independent candidates.

Because the elections are being held in three rounds, covering different parts of the country, the full results will not be known until January.

While millions of Egyptians blame the military for the slow pace of change, and are eager to see civilian rule re-established, there is clearly a desire to see the democratic process take its course.

In this respect, the large turnout flies in the face of the protesters in Tahrir Square, Cairo, and elsewhere in the country. The holding of elections effectively throws their demand for an immediate transfer of power to a civilian administra­tion out of the window.


The political parties in Egypt, led by the Freedom and Justice Party, are also keen to see the elections completed smoothly; they represent an opportunity to get a foothold in a parliament that, for the first time, is not dominated by one group.

Even if the three rounds of voting go ahead as planned, however, the rifts that have appeared will con­tinue to present challenges. In par­ticular, the army will be keen to curb the power and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and its party.

The main task of the parliament is to elect a 100-member committee to draw up a new constitution. The military is determined that this should neither pave the way for Islamic rule nor threaten the political and economic privileges that the army has enjoyed since the over­throw of the monarchy in 1952. So the elections have only deferred a confrontation between Islamists and the military.

The protesters in Tahrir Square, for their part, while sidelined by the elections, will not be content until they see the army return to bar­racks; so further street unrest is likely.

Another concern centres on the future of Christians in Egypt. The Christian charity Open Doors UK and Ireland said that facilities that its partners in Egypt provided for victims of the violence in the days leading up to the elections came under attack. The group quoted priests in Cairo as saying that the police and the army attacked “even the clinics which were set up to help the injured. Tear gas became a con­stant companion even inside our offices.”

The priests said that: “70,000 Chris­tians gathered to pray for 12 hours for the peace of our country, and for the spirit of fear not to fill the hearts of the Christians here.”

They also asked Christians world­wide to “pray that the parliamentary elections will be free and fair, and the voice of Christians will be heard.”

Open Doors has asked for con­tributions to help its partners in Egypt.


Open Doors has asked for con­tributions to help its partners in Egypt.


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