Sunday,22 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012
Sunday,22 July, 2018
Issue 1122, 15 - 21 November 2012

Ahram Weekly

Will he, won’t he?

President Mohamed Morsi has yet to decide whether he will attend the enthronement of Pope Tawadros II. Dina Ezzat review the dilemmas he faces

Al-Ahram Weekly

The enthronement of the new head of the Coptic Church takes place next Sunday. Whether or not President Mohamed Morsi attends the ceremony has yet to be decided.
Both the presidency and the Church have been elusive over whether or not Egypt’s head of the state will be present. Salafi groups have been less circumspect. They have urged Morsi not to take part in an event they view as un-Islamic.
There are three scenarios for the presidential take on the enthronement ceremony and each is problematic.
The first, which presidential sources say is the most likely, is for President Morsi to pay a courtesy visit to the new head of the Coptic Church at his office before the inauguration.
“The president is due to fly to Pakistan the same day and he might have to leave early and therefore will be unable to attend the inauguration and the mass,” said one presidential source.
It is a scenario unlikely to appease those Salafis who object to the president setting foot in the Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiya and who were vociferous in their criticism of Morsi attending Coptic Christmas Mass last year.
More would the compromise please Copts.
“I am not sure I care that much whether or not [the president] decides to join us since I know he does not like Copts. Yet I can see it as an insult for him not to attend the mass. It sends a message to the radical and extremist groups that have been attacking Copts and their churches that the president bows to their will,” said Soheir Samir, a Coptic lady in her late 70s as she exited Mar Girgis Church in Heliopolis.
“During all his years Mubarak never attended a mass. Towards the end his son [Gamal Mubarak] did attend a few masses but it was only in an attempt to lure us into supporting him as a future president. We did not care at the time because things were not as bad — no they were not alright they were just not as bad.”
The second scenario is for Morsi to attend the mass.
“He has been advised by some of his aides to show up — not to attend the whole thing because it is very long but a part of it at least,” said another presidential source.
According to this source, some of Morsi’s advisors have urged him to fix his schedule to allow for his presence during part of the ceremony on the grounds that this would reassure the Coptic community which has been fearful since the election of a Muslim Brotherhood president. And even a brief appearance by Morsi at the inaugural mass would send a message to Salafis that there are red lines the president cannot cross to please them.
Essam Al-Erian, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party, says the Brotherhood’s political wing has no objections to the president attending the Pope’s inauguration.
“We don’t intervene in the president’s decision and we don’t have a problem, and certainly not from the Islamic point of view, over Morsi’s participation in the inauguration of the Pope. His attendance would signal the president’s keenness to share the festivities of the Copts,” says Al-Erian. “What goes for Morsi goes for all the FJP members and for all Muslims. Our position is that it is not contradictory to our faith to take part in the festivities of Copts”.
Al-Erian, however, acknowledged the “political and not religious” concerns that are likely to prevail among “all political groupings and parties” in the midst of a debate over the drafting of the constitution and upon the eve of parliamentary elections.
“Each political party or group will decide its moves according to its precepts and the convictions of its main constituency; the FJP/MB constituency is a moderate constituency that does not lean towards radical choices,” said Al-Erian.
The third scenario, which would please the Salafis but offend Copts, is for Morsi to skip the ceremony altogether. According to presidential sources it is possible, though unlikely, but it cannot be excluded.
Should he not visit the Cathedral the president, according to sources, will send an envoy. Samir Morcos, the president’s only Coptic assistant, was present at the election of the Pope in October. For the inauguration, however, vice president Mahmoud Mekki might be delegated.
Sources at the Coptic Cathedral say they have not excluded this possibility. They also say that the Church did not send a written invitation for the president to take part but have extended the invitation verbally.
According to Coptic researcher Suleiman Shafik, “by doing so the Church acted to avoid embarrassing the president.”
“It is one thing for the president to ignore a written invitation and another for him not to go without having received an invitation,” argued Shafik.
Shafik does not see any particular offence whatever the decision Morsi makes.
“This is not about Copts. It is about the choices the president has been making. He has not visited any organisation that does not follow his line of thinking. He has not visited Al-Azhar, or the Press Syndicate. So far the president has confined his visits to venues with a close affiliation to his political and religious views,” says Shafik.
At the end of the day, noted Shafik, Morsi’s choices so far have undermined his promise that he would be a president to all Egyptians and eschew any policies based on discrimination.
Political science professor Mustafa Kamel Al-Sayed argues that Morsi’s commitment to no discrimination, especially against the widely apprehensive Copts of Egypt, still needs to metamorphose from words to deeds. “What we have seen so far is a process of backtracking on the rights gained by Copts of Egypt during Mubarak’s rule,” says Al-Sayed.
As Al-Sayed, Shafik and many observers note, Morsi failed to assign a Coptic vice president as he promised, and has appointed just one Coptic assistant. Coptic representation in Hisham Kandil’s cabinet is way below cabinet representation in Mubarak’s last governments.
“Today, only the state minister for the environment is a Copt and he is not a full member of cabinet,” points out Al-Sayed. “When you think Mubarak had a Copt at the head of the crucial Finance Ministry you cannot help but conclude that there has been a clear setback.”
For Al-Sayed it is unfortunate that confusion over Morsi’s decision to participate or not in the inauguration of the Coptic Pope comes against a backdrop of arguments over the status and rights of Copts as stipulated in the draft constitution.
It is not impossible to adopt an inclusive approach, insists Al-Sayed. “We could look at the example of India where the Muslim minority is clearly present in senior state positions, or at South Africa where the white minority that for years oppressed the blacks are allowed to participate. We urgently need our own participatory schemes. Exclusion is not an option.”

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