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Egyptian Christians find a new confidence from street protests

15 February 2013

Continuing dialogue: the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish (left), with the Archbishop of Adelaide, the Most Revd Jeffrey Driver (centre), meets the leader of the Coptic Orthodox community in Egypt, Pope Tawadros II, in Cairo

Continuing dialogue: the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish (left), with the Archbishop of Adelaide, the Most Revd Jeffrey Driver (centr...

THE outside world should keep open lines of communication with the Christian community in Egypt, and visit the country as a way of expressing support for the population as a whole, the Bishop of Exeter, the Rt Revd Michael Langrish, has said.

Speaking after a recent visit to Egypt, Bishop Langrish said that there was a fine line between expressing solidarity with Egyptian Christians, and speaking out in a way that would make their plight more difficult. By staying in touch regularly, one could "discover the real situation on the ground rather than what one reads in embellished press reports".

On the basis of his latest visit to Cairo, he said, he "saw no reason not to travel to Egypt at present. It is a pity that people are cancelling their holidays there. By going to Egypt, one is giving moral support to the Christian community, and encouraging the Egyptians in general."

Bishop Langrish said that he found the mood in Egypt mixed, with Christians' unease about the perceived Islamist slant in the new constitution matched by a greater sense of confidence than he had noticed in the past. This, he believed, was because the experience of taking to the streets in protests alongside Muslims had enabled them to express their identity as both Egyptians and Christians.

In his view, the main concern of Egyptians stemmed from social and economic problems rather than sectarian ones. "The Muslim Brotherhood has come to power with a vision of a more Islamic state," he said. While the Brotherhood had "deep roots in the country, it has run nothing. Now it finds that running a complex country is very challenging." President Mohammed Morsi's speeches "sound more like sermons - they are strong on rhetoric, but weak on policies. There is concern about the government's ability to deliver."

There was also a belief among Egyptians, Bishop Langrish said, that, while the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists had prevailed in elections this time, in the long run their success would wane. "Egyptians are generous and moderate people," he continued. "Those I spoke to said that it was not in their nature to be extremists. Egypt is not Saudi Arabia and Iran."

During his stay in Cairo, Bishop Langrish met the newly elected Pope of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, and the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Dr Ali Gomaa, to discuss the importance of continuing dialogue between their faiths during the ongoing protests in the country. With the former, he discussed the religious response to the protests, which, he said, had been caused by "a betrayal of the revolution, an unwanted Islamification, and the failure to deal with economic and social need".

Dr Gomaa, described by Bishop Langrish as a representative of a "classical and benevolent Islam", is shortly to retire. There had been a widespread assumption in Egypt that he would be replaced by a prominent Muslim Brotherhood cleric.

On Monday, senior clerics at al-Azhar University and Mosque, in Cairo, the leading seat of scholarship in the Sunni Islamic world, met to choose a replacement. After a secret ballot, the successful candidate was named as Shawki Abdel Karim Allam, a professor of jurisprudence at Tanta University, in northern Egypt, and a man without political affiliations or a public profile.

The choice represents a significant blow to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists. Not only have they failed to see their candidate become Mufti, but the vote shows that al-Azhar clerics are determined to maintain their independence from political influence.

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