Peace a vital interest in Egyptian elections

Christian and Jewish leaders have mixed feelings about the recent decision in the Egyptian presidential election. With the confirmed election results in, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohammed Morsi will become the first democratically elected president. In his victory speech, President Morsi promised to be a “president for all Egyptians.” “I call on you, great people of Egypt…to strengthen our national unity,” he said at his first public speech, adding that national unity was “the only way out of these difficult times.” Mohammed Morsi garnered 51 percent of the vote, narrowly defeating his rival Ahmed Shafik who garnered 48 percent. Generally Christians favored Shafik to Morsi because they feared that the Muslim Brotherhood may try to implement Shari’ah (Islamic Law).

The Muslim Brotherhood was quick to dispel these rumors and during his victory speech Morsi sought to assuage the fears of Christians. “We as Egyptians, Muslims and Christians…will face together the strife and conspiracies that target national unity,” he said. “We are all equal in rights and we all have duties toward this homeland.” President Morsi even resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood following his victory speech.

The most nervous among the Christians are the Orthodox Copts who live along the Nile River in southern Egypt, known as Upper Egypt, whose small communities are often targets of violence and slander. “Between ourselves (Christians) we say we are for Shafik, but we cannot mention this publically,” said Father Yu’annis, a priest of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Upper Egypt. “But as a church we say and believe that we will accept who God gives us and work for the good of Egypt. Many people are afraid now and are thinking of emigrating. But Egypt is a country of rumors and if not for these we would all be fine.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated President Morsi after the election results and said, “We look forward to working together with the new administration on the basis of the peace agreement between us. I believe that peace is a vital interest to both countries and I believe that peace is a fundamental pillar of stability in the region.” However, some other Israeli leaders are a bit weary of the new leadership in Egypt. Zvi Mazel, former Israeli ambassador to Egypt said that “it’s a very important development. Probably the significance will be recognized or seen later but what transpired yesterday is radical Islam.”

“Political Islam took the helm of the most important country, Egypt, and this is bad for Egypt, bad for the Middle East and also bad for Israel,” he added.

The Catholic Coptic Church of Egypt advocated a “civil, democratic and modern state” in its letter of congratulations to President Morsi. Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, the apostolic nuncio in Cairo said that the Catholic Church congratulated the new president and hoped that he might be able to lead the country “in the interests of all its children, in order to safeguard the cohesion of the social fabric.”

Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaris of Luxor expressed his optimism about the future of Egypt despite others’ concerns. “Once people listened to Mr. Morsi’s speech, they were not worried. Things are calmer. The people are waiting to see what he can do in the future.” He said that Christians throughout Egypt hope that President Morsi will honor his promises.

While the Muslim Brotherhood has not lived up to its promises in the past, Bishop Zakaria said that when a political party is in power with the responsibility of government, it faces a “very different” situation. He added that the narrow margin of Morsi’s win means that he will not want to alienate those who voted for his rival Sharfiq.

Another worry for all concerned is the overarching power of Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which has been running the country since the fall of the former president Hosni Mubarak. Some warn of the possibility of violence or even civil war between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood if things don’t work well between them. This of course would be a tragedy for all in the Middle East, Egypt as a whole and unfortunately Christians in particular. Not to mention Israel….

Father Joseph D. Wallace is coordinator, Ecumenical and Inter-religious Affairs, Diocese of Camden.

Categories: That All May Be One

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