14 January 2014
Abigail Frymann Rouch
Egyptian president visits Coptic Pope as Churches urge laity to vote
Egypt's interim President, Adly Mansour, visited the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, at his cathedral in Alexandria during Coptic Christmas Eve on 6 January. Egyptian presidents normally send greetings, so the personal visit was both unusual and symbolic. "This was something entirely new and we very much hope that the move by the President sets a precedent," commented Fr Rafik Greiche, spokesman for Egypt's Coptic Catholic bishops.
He said the non-violent Christmas boded well ahead of this week’s referendum on a revised constitution which replaces the one ratified barely a year ago under Islamist President Mohammed Morsi months before he was ousted by the army.
Pope Tawadros expressed his support for broad participation in the referendum, calling it "a duty and a responsibility".
The Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Egypt’s most senior Sunni Muslim cleric, and even by the spokesman of the Salafi al-Nour Party, demonstrated the same support.
Fr Greiche said the new constitution contains, “many articles about freedom of speech and freedom of conscience", with one article enshrining the right to religious freedom for Judaism and Christianity, while maintaining Islam as the state religion. The new text also declares equality between men and women. It is firmly opposed by the Muslim Brotherhood and other pro-Morsi groups, which boycotted the referendum.
Coptic activists have been campaigning in favour of a victory for the "yes" vote.
Bishop Angaelos, the head of the Coptic community in Britain, told The Tablet ahead of the vote on the new constitution: “I’m optimistic if people go out and choose it. The fear is that people hold back and we end up losing out on this momentum.”
Christian representatives on the majority-Islamist committee that worked on drawing up the previous constitution withdrew from the process and the constitution that was approved by Morsi last December drew on the principles of sharia law.
This time the Christian representatives – Copts and Catholics – have not withdrawn from the drafting process. Mouneer Anis, the Anglican Bishop of Egypt, told The Tablet in October that among the population there was less of an appetite for another Islamist government and a greater suspicion of Islamist politicians. Morsi’s Government had been “dictatorial and fascist" he said.
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