Egyptian Christians are seeking guarantees they will have freedom of worship as campaigns for the mid-June presidential run-off are reaching fever pitch.
Christians hold a crucial number of votes, with 6 million Copts being eligible alongside Roman Catholic, Episcopalians (Anglicans) and some evangelical groups. The June 16-17 election pits Ahmed Shafik, a former prime minister of jailed former president Hosni Mubarak, against Mohammed Morsi, candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood party.
Christians have not officially backed either of the two, but Shafik on June 4 warned that voting for the Islamist group would threaten the rights of Christians and women, a view that appeared to resonate with the denominations.
According to news reports, Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza said the Muslim Brotherhood seems not to be keeping promises. “Whoever will guarantee liberty and democracy and a good constitution for Egypt will have our vote,” he said.
At the same time, church sources said Christians were keen to vote for the candidates who will guarantee their freedom, following recent attacks, killings and persecution attributed to Islamists. Several churches have been burned and property vandalized since the start in 2011 of the “Arab Spring” uprising against Mubarak’s authoritarian regime.
Since the announcement of the run-off, Islamists have reprimanded Coptic Christians for allegedly voting in favor of Shafik in the previous round. New reports quoted various Islamist speakers saying this was a “betrayal” which rendered meaningless the revolution that swept Mubarak out of power.
Shafik has accused the Islamists of intimidating Christians ahead of the vote. He spoke in a news conference televised live as protesters poured into the streets to challenge a court ruling on a life sentence for Mubarak. The protesters are demanding a death sentence.
Although Morsi has issued a list of 17 pledges which highlight a promise to respect constitutional rights of all Egyptians, including public and private freedoms, Christians have been doubtful.
A cleric who did not wish to be named told ENInews by telephone that Morsi has pledged to engage Coptic Christians, but he does not state their freedom of religion will be guaranteed.