Friday, July 13, 2012
Egypt’s Power Struggle and the Fate of Christians
By Aidan Clay of International Christian Concern (ICC)
Special to ASSIST News Service
CAIRO, EGYPT (ANS) -- In defiance of Egypt’s top generals and highest court, Muslim Brotherhood presidential-elect Mohammed Morsi reopened parliament on Tuesday. In only his third week in office, Morsi’s rapid-fire pursuit to broaden the Brotherhood’s power openly challenges the country’s ruling military council. Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority fears that the restoration of parliament, which will grant greater powers to Islamists, will be used to institute Sharia law and stifle religious freedoms.
If the parliament were to be reinstated, the Muslim Brotherhood—which holds nearly half the seats in the Islamist-dominated assembly—would head both the legislature and the presidency. Yet, a Brotherhood-controlled civilian government appears to be what Egypt’s ruling generals fear most. Only a week prior to Morsi’s announcement as president, the military announced a constitutional declaration on June 17 that expands their control over civilian politicians and strips the head of state of most of his powers. Morsi’s move to defy the court ruling by reconvening parliament was not only considered to be illegal by the military council, but also a direct challenge to the establishment’s authority.
In a warning to the president, the military said it would support the country’s “legitimacy, constitution and law” by upholding the court’s ruling. “[This is] language that means [the military] will not stand by and watch the rulings of the country's top court ignored or breached,” the Christian Science Monitor reported.
However, Daniel Pipes, the President of the Middle East Forum, argues the contrary, saying that the military, not the Brotherhood, has the ultimate power in Egypt. “Not only was the [presidential] election symbolic, but it was also illusory, in that the military leadership scripted it,” Pipes wrote in an op-ed for the National Review. “[Mohammed Morsi’s] job is undefined. A military coup could brush him aside… Mohamed Tantawi is the real ruler of Egypt. Chairman of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), field marshal, and minister of defense, he serves not only as the commander-in-chief but also as the effective head of all three of Egypt’s branches of government… The [military] exploits the Muslim Brotherhood and other proxies as its civilian fronts, a role they are happy to play, as it has permitted the Islamists to garner an outsized percentage of the parliamentary vote and then to win the presidency.”
Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who make up 10 percent of the population, hope that Pipes is right, fearful that if the Brotherhood gains leverage over the military, the country could quickly transition into an Islamic state.
“There is a Brotherhood strategy to work toward building an Islamic country,” Yousef Sidhom, editor of the weekly Watani newspaper and a Coptic Church official, told The Associated Press. He added that the Brotherhood will withhold government positions from Christians, tax non-Muslims, and base education around Islam.
The Brotherhood will not likely concede to pressure by the military, vowing to “fight in the courts and the streets to reinstate the Parliament,” according to The New York Times. Prior to the reconvening of parliament, the Brotherhood’s Secretary-General Mahmoud Hussein called for a “million-man march” to “regain the parliament” and denounced the military’s hold on power. A few hundred protestors supporting the Brotherhood responded to the call in Cairo's Tahrir Square on Monday, chanting, “We love you Morsi,” and “Down with military rule.”
“This may end being a game of ‘chicken’ [to see] who withdraws his decision first,” Dr. Omar Ashour, a scholar at the Brookings Doha Center and director of the Middle East Politics Graduate Studies Program at the University of Exeter, told msnbc.com.
Christians and all Egyptians anticipate the power struggle, which Reuters labeled “a war of attrition,” to be far from over. More battles lie ahead, including the drafting of Egypt’s constitution, the right of which was stripped from the parliament last month in a decree that authorizes the military to appoint the body to write the document. In this confrontation for power, nothing less than the very ideals of Egypt’s revolution—mainly that a democratically elected government would replace the military—are at stake.
Aidan Clay is the Middle East Regional Manager for International Christian Concern (ICC), a Washington, DC-based human rights organization that exists to support persecuted Christians worldwide by providing awareness, advocacy, and assistance (www.persecution.org). Aidan is a graduate from Biola University in Southern California. Prior to joining ICC, Aidan worked with Samaritan’s Purse in South Sudan and has traveled extensively throughout the Middle East, Africa and Europe. He and his wife currently live in the Middle East. For more information, contact Aidan Clay at firstname.lastname@example.org
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This story is the personal opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views of the ASSIST News Service or ASSIST Ministries.