Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1267, (22 - 28 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Call to separate politics from religion

A group of Coptic activists has called for demonstrations in front of the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo in a bid to halt the Church’s involvement in politics, reports Michael Adel

Al-Ahram Weekly

Coptic Pope Tawadros II, the patriarch of St Mark, is due to return to Cairo on Wednesday after completing his first official tour of the US, during which he inaugurated new churches, visited Coptic parishes and dioceses in southern states, and delivered sermons on religious and social subjects.

In his absence, Rami Kamel, director of the Maspero Youth Human Rights group, a Coptic civil-society organisation, has issued a call for demonstrations to take place on 1 November in front of St Mark’s Cathedral in Abbasiya in Cairo.

The demonstrators will demand that the Church cease its involvement in politics and return to its spiritual functions. They will also urge that any clergyman or Church official, regardless of rank, found trying to embroil the Church in politics be punished.

There is “no difference” between the Church’s involvement in politics and that of the Salafists or Muslim Brothers, since these groups interfered in political life in the same manner and on the same pretexts, Kamel said.

“We have designed placards and banners with pictures of candidates and pointing to the involvement of a number of bishops in supporting the For the Love of Egypt list in the parliamentary elections or candidates running on individual tickets in Alexandria, Qina and Shobra,” he said.

“I call on Coptic youth who truly believe in the civil state to come to St Mark’s Cathedral to deliver our message to the patriarch of St Mark to the effect that his political role has overshadowed his spiritual role and that he is using a patriotic mantle to disguise a political role that we reject,” Kamel said.

He also called for the creation of a code of honour to be signed by the Pope and the bishops and pledging them not to become involved in politics or to seek to exploit the Coptic vote in elections, or represent the Copts to the government.

The code would state that the Church retains its right to choose the servants, priests, bishops or monks representing it as a religious institution, but that the Copts are citizens endowed with the right to choose their own political representatives.

Church officials in Egypt have refused to comment, apart from describing the call as an “attempt to distort the image of the Church” and to promote the interests of the individuals calling for the demonstrations.

Father Athanasius George of the Egyptian Coptic Church in Ireland stressed that the Church is a purely religious institution and that it should not become the theatre for political activity.

On his Facebook page, he wrote: “The Church is not a political institution and will never be one. It does not belong to a political party or to a political platform. Nor is it right-wing or left-wing, because it represents the kingdom of God and His righteousness and redemption of mankind.”

He added that the Church should not meddle in politics but should rather “encourage Christians to engage fully and without reserve in their communities.” The Church should not nominate particular candidates or instruct parishioners to vote in particular way or attempt to steer them as a bloc towards a single political bloc, he said.

Rather, the function of the Church is to urge its parishioners to be constructive and patriotic and to participate in accordance with their particular concerns, outlooks and free personal convictions. The Copts are not a single homogenous bloc, he said, but are diverse and spread across a variety of ideological and social affiliations.

Father George further stressed that the Church does not have political candidates, political party headquarters, political platforms, or campaign slogans and emblems. Anyone departing from this tradition only represents himself and not the Church, he said.

The Coptic Church has explicitly prohibited clergymen from running in elections and from implicating the Church in political battles or disputes, he said. “Every political opinion has its supporters and opponents. If the Church is dragged into these [quarrels], it will slip into fragmentation, splinters and contradictions that would cause it to lose its spirituality and its Christian goals.”

He continued, “This is why those who have become involved in politics must discard all religious garb, for they will engage in conjectures that are not pure and that are open to choice.

“As for those [clergymen] enthralled by political machinations and the lure of celebrity status, they should not expect to be treated by their opponents in the way their devotees treat them, because they have chosen to plunge into the quagmire of politics and matters that have no sanctity.”

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