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Will Coptic Christians Share in the Arab Spring While Morsi Is President of Egypt?

By Michael Terheyden
June 22nd, 2013
Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

As the one year anniversary of the election of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi approaches, tensions are high. Tens of thousands of Islamists have begun pouring into Cairo in anticipation of anti-Morsi demonstrations planned for June 30, 2013, by opponents of the new government. 

KNOXVILLE, TN (Catholic Online) - As the one year anniversary of the election of Egypt's President Mohamed Morsi approaches, tensions are high. Tens of thousands of Islamists have begun pouring into Cairo in anticipation of anti-Morsi demonstrations planned for June 30, 2013, by opponents of the new government.

According to France 24, an international news site, Islamists carrying Egyptian flags and pictures of Morsi held a demonstration on Friday, June 21. It was led by the Muslim Brotherhood, and its aim was to show that Morsi and his government had the support of the Egyptian people. But the Egyptian people are clearly divided.

Morsi was elected one year ago, after the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in February of 2011. Morsi promised to be the President of all Egyptians, including the Coptic Christian community. He said the Copts would be given full equal rights. At one point Morsi said,  "I will not be biased against any son of Egypt." But this is not what has happened.

Instead, it appears that Morsi has used every opportunity to turn Egypt into an Islamist state since he became president. This past November, President Morsi issued a declaration giving himself sweeping dictatorial-style power over the drafting of Egypt's new constitution. The President's actions unleashed a firestorm.

A group of judges said, "The state of law is at stake." The Vice-President of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Tahani al-Gebali, said that Morsi was now an "illegitimate president." And Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, said, "Morsi today usurped all state powers and appointed himself Egypt's new pharaoh."

Protestors marched on the presidential palace in Cairo and clashed with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. At one point, an estimated 200,000 anti-Morsi protestors flooded into Cairo's famous Tahrir Square.

President Morsi seemingly backed down, but the final Constitution was drafted by a committee dominated by Islamists who used the Constitution to strengthen sharia law. Sharia law highly discriminates against non-Muslims and women.

Since taking office, Morsi has also had run-ins with the national judiciary, the media and the police. More recently, Morsi appointed seven members of the Muslim Brotherhood as provincial governors. He also gave the Luxor governorship to a member of the militant Islamist group responsible for the massacre of 58 foreign tourists in 1997. These appointments led to several clashes between Morsi's supporters and his opponents.

According to his opponents, Morsi is "giving the Islamists a monopoly over public institutions." However, the president's supporters claim he is merely cleaning up corrupt institutions from the days of Mubarak.

Yet, organizers of the June 30 demonstration say they have collected 15 million signatures on a petition which demands the resignation of Morsi. Nevertheless, Ahmed Aqila, a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party, does not believe it can happen. He said, "Those who say 'President Morsi will be toppled on June 30' live in an illusion they must give up."

The Coptic Christian community has been concerned that the Morsi government is allowing Islamists to act more aggressively toward non-Muslims. Heba Morayef, a director for Regional Human Rights Watch, says that some Muslims are using more discriminatory language on television. He says, "It's very scary because of the sudden uptick in violence, compounded by the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood has in no way tried to reign it back and has at times participated."

For instance, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Safwat Hegazi, recalling demonstrations last December which turned violent, told the Copts, "You share this country with us, but there are red lines, and one red line is the legitimacy of Dr. Morsi. Whoever splashes water on that, we will spill his blood." Hegazi has since been appointed to the National Council on Human Rights in Egypt.

Consequently, some people are nervous about the upcoming demonstration scheduled at the end of this month and with good reason. There is much at stake. Coptic Christians and women have the most to lose, but so too do all Muslims, especially more moderate and secular Muslims.

While spokesmen from both sides are rightly calling for calm, they also realize that people have a right to address the Morsi government. Although he did not officially endorse the upcoming demonstration, according to one source, Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Orthodox Church said, "Members of Egypt's Christian minority are free to express their opinions on the streets, just as they were to vote for whomever candidate they supported in the past presidential elections."

That is the way it should be in a true democracy, and President Morsi knows it. After one of the demonstrations last year, he said, "I will protect for my brothers in the opposition all their rights so they can exercise their role." Now Morsi needs to prove it. Is Egypt a true democracy or not? Will Egypt's Coptic Christians ever share in the Arab Spring, or was it a lie? We shall find out at the end of the month.

Let us pray for the safety of our brave brethren who will be demonstrating on June 30, and for a free Egypt where all Egyptians can live in peace. They are not alone. They are merely on the front lines of a battle that is threatening to engulf Christians throughout the world.

 
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Michael Terheyden was born into a Catholic family, but that is not why he is a Catholic. He is a Catholic because he believes that truth is real, that it is beautiful and good, and that the fullness of truth is in the Catholic Church. However, he knows that God's grace operating throughout his life is the main reason he is a Catholic. He is greatly blessed to share his faith and his life with his beautiful wife, Dorothy. They have four grown children and three grandchildren.

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