EGYPT: Coptic Catholic bishop "optimistic" about new president
By John Pontifex
25 June 2012
Mohammed Mursi's victory in Egypt’s presidential elections could be good news for the country’s Christians, according to a senior Coptic Catholic bishop who said he was “optimistic” about the future.
Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor said he and fellow Copts were much encouraged by President-elect Mursi’s post-election victory speech yesterday (Sunday, 24 June), in which he said he wanted to reach out to Christians as well as Muslims.
Speaking to Aid to the Church in Need from Luxor, Bishop Zakaria said the Muslim Brotherhood candidate’s success was a cause for hope in spite of many Christians’ concerns that the party’s apparent openness masks an Islamist and intolerant agenda.
The bishop said that many people in Luxor had voted for opposition candidate Ahmed Shafiq in the 16-17 June run-off elections but were reassured by Mr Mursi’s speech yesterday, which suggested a positive approach to tourism, vital to the local economy.
“The people of Luxor are so afraid that the Muslim Brotherhood will stop tourism but they are now hoping that what Mr Mursi said in his speech will be true.”
Bishop Zakaria, who was guest-of-honour at Aid to the Church in Need's Night of Witness event in London last month, highlighted reports that Mr Mursi was considering choosing a Copt for the post of vice president and had spoken in support of tourism and women’s rights.
Saying he was “optimistic”, Bishop Zakaria said: “We hope he will honour his promises made in his speech after he was announced as president.”
The bishop referred to an extract in Mr Mursi’s speech where he said: “Egypt is for all Egyptians; all of us are equals in terms of rights. All of us also have duties towards this homeland. As for myself, I don't have rights. I only have duties…
“We Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, are advocates of civilisation and construction.”
Commenting on the speech, Bishop Zakaria said: “It is true that in the past the Muslim Brotherhood have not lived up to their promises.
“When you are not in power, you can say what you want but they now have the big responsibility of government, it is very different.”
He said: “Once people listened to Mr Mursi’s speech, they were not worried. Things are calmer. The people are waiting to see what he can do in the future.”
Bishop Zakaria’s comments come after Bishop Antonios Mina of Guizeh (Giza) told Aid to the Church in Need a month ago that the Muslim Brotherhood was a cause for concern because it had a track record of failing to honour its promises of being liberal and tolerant to non-Islamist groups.
Turning to other key factors, Bishop Zakaria said tackling Egypt’s huge economic problems was a top priority for the new president.
He said that political turmoil had devastated Luxor’s local economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, and that unemployment was now at almost 50 percent.
The bishop said the new president needed to build a political consensus in order to tackle economic problems.
He added: “We hope he will create a new government involving all the parties, not just the Muslim Brotherhood. We are praying for this.”
The bishop said that, after careful and comprehensive monitoring of election news reports, he was hopeful that the Muslim Brotherhood would not pursue an Islamist agenda.
He argued that the Mr Mursi’s very narrow majority of 51.73 percent meant he would not wish to alienate the many who voted for Mr Shafiq, one-time prime minister under Hosni Mubarak, the ex-president.