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Egypt's Christians ‘sing and dance for joy’ at new inclusive constitution
21 January 2014 13:44 by Liz Dodd

Church leaders in Egypt have welcomed the overwhelming support shown for the country’s new constitution, which they said will ensure a brighter future for Christians.

The vast majority – 98 per cent – of Egyptians who voted backed the new version of the constitution at a referendum last week. Redrafted by the interim government in December, with input from Egypt’s Christian communities, it replaces the Sharia-based one introduced by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi before he was ousted last July.

Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan of the Coptic Catholic Eparchy of Assiut, in Upper Egypt, told the Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need the new constitution would “considerably improve” the lot of Christians in Egypt.

“When the result came through, there was singing and dancing for joy,” he said.

Joannes Zakaria, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Luxor, said: “I think we are about to start a new future and a new life.”

“It is a very important moment for the future of Egypt. When I went to vote, the place was crowded – and a lot of women took part – and this was not just the case in Luxor but in the whole of the country,” he said.

The Coptic Catholic bishop of Giza, Antonios Aziz Mina, who was part of the commission that drafted the constitution, said the new document was a unifying force.

“I am very pleased with the result. It is a good result for moderate Copts and for others. This is a constitution which, when it is applied by law, will give equal rights to all the religions – Christians and others.”

The Anglican Bishop of Egypt, Dr Mouneer Hanna Anis, said that millions people voted in the referendum despite calls from the Muslim Brotherhood for a boycott.

“We, alongside other Christian denominations, encouraged the people of Egypt to fulfil their civil duty to vote and to pray for the future of Egypt,” he said.

He said that the new constitution affirmed the rights of citizens and prohibited discrimination, and allowed greater freedom of worship and church-building.

“I can see my beloved country standing on the doorstep of a new day. Do pray that the hopes and dreams of millions of people, of a more settled, secure and democratic country, will be fulfilled,” he said.

Speaking ahead of the referendum the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, asked Christians to pray that the vote would take place safely.

He praised Egyptians for venturing out “to proactively live this new spirit of ownership and citizenship”.

Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza Photo ACN