Not in the spirit of Christ?
A Christian Brotherhood which claims to adopt the organisational precepts of its Muslim counterpart has been launched. Nader Habib
weighs up the pros and cons
A group of Christian activists have set up the Christian Brotherhood (CB), a group modelling itself after the Muslim Brothers. The group's spiritual leader is Michel Fahmi and its legal representative is Mamdouh Nakhlah.
Co-founder Amir Ayad said that the CB believes in non-violence and the teachings of Gandhi.
The idea of creating the group goes back to 2005 when both Fahmi and Nakhlah began to discuss the possibility. Ayad then took matters into his own hands.
"I began forming centres for the group in 16 governorates, three European countries, and Australia," says Ayad.
The group was launched at a news conference on "The Status of Egypt's Copts under Religious Rule".
According to Ayad, the CB seeks to build the political, social, and professional capacities of its members. It will monitor incidents of sectarian discrimination, confront violence against Copts through legal and legitimate means, and promote the Coptic language and identity.
Like the MB, the CB will not register with the Ministry of Social Affairs.
The creation of a Christian group, says Fahmi, became necessary following the recent surge in the political fortunes of the Islamists.
The CB is not interested in promoting sectarianism but wants to cement the unity of the nation. Its founders say it has no interest in political power and no ties with the church.
According to Fahmi, "all the CB wants to do is to promote a sense of citizenry."
"If the MB says that Islam is the solution, our position is that love of the country is the solution."
It may claim not to be interested in political power but it intends to launch a political wing, much as the MB formed the Freedom and Justice Party.
The group's name, says Fahmi, was chosen to send a message to the MB. "We are telling them they are not alone in Egypt. There are also Christians around. Egypt is not an MB fiefdom."
Membership in the CB, Nakhla elucidates, will be open to Christians and Muslims alike.
Nakhla expects the church to oppose the creation of a Christian political party, though one of its aims will be to shield the church from political involvement.
"We created this group to keep the church out of politics. The church has a spiritual role in promoting the faith and calling for peace and charity. It is not up to the church to direct the Christian community to choose candidates."
The Coptic Church's legal adviser Naguib Gobrail points out that political parties formed on a religious basis contravene Article 5 of the constitutional declaration.
"We must not address violations with violations," he argues.
Public reaction to the CB has been mixed. Fadel Tawfiq, an engineer, says he is opposed to the group on principle.
"As an Egyptian and Coptic citizen I reject the group. The MB is a religious group with a militia wing. Will the CB too form a paramilitary wing? If this happens it will serve as an invitation to foreign powers to divide Egypt."
According to Tawfiq, the security of Egypt's Muslims and Christians is one and the same.
"If Christians have political goals they should join existing political parties or form new political parties. But any party they join cannot discriminate among citizens on the basis of creed."
Father Basilius Girgis of the Virgin Mary Church in Moqattam insists the whole idea is a joke, arguing that churches are places of worship and should not engage in political activities.
"There is nothing in Christianity called the Christian Brotherhood. We don't have anything to do with politics. We engage in politics only as members of a nation. In the recent elections we didn't support any candidate."
"Christianity is not about bigotry. The idea of an extremist current is rejected. It may claim to bear the name of Christ, but it lacks the spirit of Christ."
Girgis is worried that the formation of the CB may divide Copts, with some for the group and others against it.
"The MB may welcome a schism between Christians and Muslims. After being neighbours, barriers will rise to divide us, like the barriers the Jews created to separate them from the Palestinians," says Girgis.
The pros and cons will be debated throughout the Coptic community for weeks -- perhaps months -- to come.