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Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Christians in Egypt Blamed for Voting by Islamists

By Michael Ireland
Senior International Correspondent, ASSIST News Service

CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- The official results of the first round of the Egyptian presidential elections were announced today, and the run-off will be between Mohamed Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, and Air Marshal Ahmad Shafik, former President Hosni Mubarak's last PM, who served for less than one month during the revolution and before Mubarak was ousted.

According to Egyptian journalist Mary Abdelmassih, writing for AINA -- Assyrian International News Agency, www.aina.org  , these results, which were expected since Friday, have enraged many Egyptians who feel that they are left with two options, each worse than the other, namely either going back to the Mubarak regime represented by Shafik or the Islamists who will drag Egypt into being another Afghanistan or Iran. Nasserist candidate Hamdeed Sabahy, favored by a great number of youth -- especially those who participated in the 25 January Revolution, came in third.

AINA reports that many Islamists, fearing Shafik if he comes to power, especially after vowing to bring back order and security within one month of his election, are blaming Copts for voting for Shafik and bringing him to second place. Copts have been accused of being "traitors" and "anti-revolutionary" for voting to bring back the old regime.

Nearly 6,000,000 Christian Copts were eligible to vote, from a total Coptic population of 18,000,000 Copts (according to the Church's data), the news agency said.

AINA says these accusations against the Copts, which started last Friday after the preliminary elections results were released, are seen by many as a real threat to Copts.

"These accusations are part of a terror and intimidation campaign to prevent them from voting again for Shafik," said Egyptian writer Saad Namnam, "or even boycotting the elections altogether, which would be the same as voting for Morsy."

AINA reports that two days ago the Islamic group Gama'a al-Islamiyya issued a statement which said that the advance of Ahmed Shafik in the elections was due to several reasons. Firstly "sectarian voting, where the Copts gave their votes to Shafik at the direction of the church, which is unfortunate."

"We have been bombarded by the media by accusations from the revolutionary youths and prominent Islamist leaders," said Caroline Asaad, of Maspero Coptic Youths Federation.

"Our friends at college, work and our neighbors all accuse the Egyptian Church of high treason by directing Copts to vote for Shafik." Asaad said she voted for Sabahi while her parents voted for Shafik.

"What did they want us to do?" said Coptic activist Mark Ebeid. "Whoever says that supporting Shafik is a crime against the '25 January Revolution', we ask him to advise us whom to vote for? The sea is in front of us and the Islamists are behind us."

AINA reports that Dr. Emad Gad, MP and deputy director of Al-Ahram Centre for Strategic Studies, said this campaign against the Copts is a prepared strategy by the Muslim Brotherhood to increase the chances of their candidate in the run-off election, by promoting a lie that votes of the Copts helped Shafik to advance.

"This is not true at all, he said. The largest block of votes for Shafik was in the four provinces of the Delta, namely Sharkia, Gharbia, Menoufiah and Dakahila, where the Copts make up only 5 percent of the total population." He added that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists usually say the total number of the Copts does not exceed 6 percent of the population. "So does this ratio have the ability to turn the election results upside down?"

Christian politician George Ishaq, of the Dostor Party, said that it is not true that the Coptic vote was behind Shafik getting second place.

"To accuse the Christians of all voting for Shafik is not true, as the Christians are not one voting block. Christian youths voted for Hamdeen Sabahi, those who are older voted for Shafik and Amr Moussa." He added that those who voted for Shafik were the "remnants" of the Mubarak regime and members of his dissolved NDP Party, some Christians who fear a religious state as well as all those who fear the Revolution.

AINA says this was confirmed by results of a Coptic voting trends survey carried out by Coptic website Christian Dogma. The results were divided between Shafik, Ex-Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi.

Dr. Gad believes the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups want to bring religion into the elections again, as votes for their candidate Morsy have declined, having received only half the votes the Muslim Brotherhood got in the parliamentary elections.

"There is no better way to reap votes like getting religion into elections; to do so you have to mobilize people through religion," says Dr. Gad.

"You also deprive your opponent of his supporters or the largest number of them, and the easiest way to do this in Egypt is to speak to uneducated or simple Egyptians, and tell them that your rival is the candidate of the Church, and Copts support him."

Dr. Gad said that the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists tried it in the parliamentary elections and succeeded. "Certainly, the Muslim Brotherhood's plan to seize the post of President during the run-off is to 'religionalize' the run-off on the one hand and intensify talk about Coptic support for Shafik on the other."

The news agency says some TV programs and their guests defended the Copts. "Copts should not be blamed, but blame those who terrorized them," said ex-presidential candidate Khaled Ali. Most media guests said the dismal performance of Islamists in parliament was the reason why voters turned away from them to other candidates, especially those looking for stability.

AINA goes on to report that Egyptians who voted for Shafik believe that they would not re-elect him after four years if he fails them, but with the Muslim Brotherhood, they believe they would never get rid of them once they have control of all the organs of government.

Bishop Anba Pachomius, the acting Patriarch of Coptic Church, denied that the Church had any role in Shafik reaching the run-off election, saying that the Coptic citizen has the right to choose the next president who represents his aspirations, and no one has any right to dictate to him any opinion. He added that the church did not decide so far on a particular candidate to support for the run-off election before considering his stance on Article II of the Constitution, which is vital for this decision, as it should also ensure that Copts resort to their laws and their holy books with regards to their personal status laws. Article II states "Islam is the Religion of the State. Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence [Sharia]."

The news agency said that in an interview published in al-Dostor Daily on Sunday, Bishop Pachomius pointed the necessity to specify the criteria that must be met in the presidential candidate, "mainly believing in a secular state, the principle of citizenship, the adoption of the common law for building of houses of worship, and the personal laws for non-Muslims." The Coptic Orthodox Church had issued a statement before the elections saying that it is not endorsing any candidate.

Tarek el Zomor
(Photo courtesy AINA)

Tarek el Zomor, a prominent figure of the Gama'a al-Islamiyya "demanded an apology from the Copts "for voting for Shafik, as "this was a fatal error." This has enraged Copts.

"What if most Christians agreed among themselves to have allegiance to the candidate with the least inclinations towards a religious State? Where is the offense in it and why wonder about it?" commented Coptic activist Wagih Yacoub.

"Did they really expect a Christian to choose a president to represent him from those who cut off the ear of a Christian, blocked the railways in objection to the appointment of a Christian governor in Qena, burn down several churches and who are diligently working to write a Constitution which undermines the rights of Christians? Then I do not know what apology is demanded from us Christians by Zomor? And to whom? And why?"

Tarek El-Zomor was convicted in 1984 for his role in the assassination of Egypt's former President Anwar Sadat and for belonging to the Islamic Jihad group. He was released by the military council in March 2011, the agency reported.

On Saturday May 26, during a TV interview on Al Nahar TV with prominent presenter Mahmoud Saad, Dr. Morsy said that Egypt is for everyone and that Muslims and Christians are equal before the law. Addressing the Copts, Morsy said that he cannot imagine that there is any Copt who would contribute towards the return of the former regime.

Morsy wondered whether over the past 80 years (since the Muslim Brotherhood was founded) if anyone has heard of any attack by a member of the Muslim Brotherhood against any Copt. He said that Copts took part in the Revolution and the bullets of the former regime did not differentiate between a Muslim or Copt. He vowed to the Copts that they will be Egyptian citizens before the law, in their rights and duties.

Addressing Morsy, popular anchor Amr Adib said yesterday during his program Cairo Today, which is viewed by millions of Egyptians, it is no good making promises on TV.

"If you want the votes of the Copts then give them a signed document that it is possible for a Copt to be president or vice-president of Egypt, or even that a Copt could be allowed to be head of the Gynecology Department at a hospital, of which they are deprived," he said.



** Michael Ireland is the Senior International Correspondent for ANS. He is an international British freelance journalist who was formerly a reporter with a London (United Kingdom) newspaper and has been a frequent contributor to UCB UK, a British Christian radio station. While in the UK, Michael traveled to Canada and the United States, Albania,Yugoslavia, Holland, Germany,and Czechoslovakia. He has reported for ANS from Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Israel, Jordan, China,and Russia. Michael's volunteer involvement with ASSIST News Service is a sponsored ministry department -- 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' (MIMM) -- of A.C.T. International of P.O.Box 1649, Brentwood, TN 37024-1649, at: Artists in Christian Testimony (A.C.T.) International where you can make a donation online under 'Donate' tab, then look for 'Michael Ireland Media Missionary' under 'Donation Category' to support his stated mission of 'Truth Through Christian Journalism.' Michael is a member in good standing of the National Writers Union, Society of Professional Journalists, Religion Newswriters Association, Evangelical Press Association and International Press Association. If you have a news or feature story idea for Michael, please contact him at: ANS Senior International Reporter

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