A DECISION by six prominent Egyptian Copts, including two
churchmen, to boycott a meeting with the US Secretary of State,
Hillary Clinton, during her recent visit to Cairo, highlighted the
unease felt by the country's Christian minority at the recent turn
of political events there.
The Copts' protest arose from Mrs Clinton's talks with the newly
elected President Mohammed Morsi, and other Muslim Brotherhood
Those who stayed away from the meeting with Mrs Clinton - four
businessmen and political activists, and two priests - accused the
United States and the international community of favouring
Islamists in Egypt at the expense of Christians and secularists. A
number of Copts also joined in demonstrations in Cairo and
Alexandria, to protest at the visit by the US Secretary of
In general, Copts, like other Egyptians, have been watching
political events since the election of Mr Morsi with trepidation.
The decision by the new President to overrule the ruling military
council and recall parliament raised fears of a confrontation
between Islamists and their supporters on the one side, and the
army and the constitutional court on the other.
Until this stand-off, and others, are resolved, and a new
cabinet is in place, Copts will have little idea about what the
future might hold. But, in the immediate aftermath of the
elections, Christian leaders in the country said that they had
taken heart from reassurances made to them by President Morsi that
minorities had nothing to fear from Muslim Brotherhood rule.
Anxiety about possible changes to the constitution which would
give greater weight to Islamic sharia, and about Islamists'
imposing restrictions on Christians and secularists, were voiced
when the Muslim Brotherhood swept to victory in the parliamentary
elections earlier this year.
But President Morsi summoned Christian leaders to assure them
about their future. One of those who met the President was the
President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the
Middle East, the Bishop in Egypt, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis.
Bishop Anis said that he "came out of the 35-minute meeting very
encouraged. I must say that this initiative of the President
carries in itself the desire to assure Christians that he will be
the President of all Egyptians."
Bishop Anis said that the Christian leaders who were invited to
see President Morsi "were received with a warm welcome".
The refusal of the Egyptian authorities over recent decades to
grant licences to Copts and others to build new places of worship
has constituted one of the main grievances of the Christian
communities. Copts, in particular, also complain of being denied
the opportunities in public life that are available to Muslims.
In his first public speech after being declared the winner of
the presidential run-off, President Morsi was at pains to stress
that he regarded all Egyptians as equals, regardless of their
Such assurances have gone some way to allaying fears of both
Christians and secular Egyptians, but there are still suspicions
that Islamist influence will permeate society. One of the toughest
challenges for the new President will be to curb demands from
hardline Salafists for a crackdown on symbols of liberalism, such
as the sale of alcohol, and women's freedom to dress as they
As a columnist in the pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat,
Abdul Rahman al-Rashed, said, the Muslim Brotherhood's "religious
ideology remains at odds with a wide spectrum of intellectuals. So
to what extent is Morsi capable of respecting the cultural freedoms
that existed during the Mubarak era?"
Furthermore, if he does seek to respect those values, he is
"likely to stir up the radical wing within the Brotherhood, as well
as the Salafi groups, which will target whatever they deem to be a
vice. What will Morsi do then? Will he send the police to arrest
his comrades in the Freedom and Justice Party, or will he let
everyone express themselves however they please?"
In the weeks ahead, Egyptians of all creeds and backgrounds will
be keenly awaiting the answer to questions such as these, when life
eventually settles down under the first freely elected presidency
in the country's history.