Just one week after the Orthodox Church celebrates Eastern Christmas on January 7, Coptic Egyptians will turn out at the polls to ratify or strike down Egypt’s new constitution draft. If voters approve it Egypt will have a constitution slightly more liberal than Morsi’s but stricter (more religious) than Mubarak’s. As bomb-sniffing dogs prepare the safety of voting polls housed inside thousands of schools across Egypt, Copts must get ready to endorse or reject Islamic Shariah law as the source of Egypt’s laws.
Twenty-plus million Copts of which about 20 percent are eligible to vote next week on January 14 and 15, make up a part of the larger constituency of more than 30 million pro-democracy freedom fighters that, along with the military’s backing, brought Morsi’s Brotherhood-backed government to its knees last summer. It is only natural now that Egyptian freedom fighters face supremacist doctrine embodied in the new constitution drafted by an assembly not representative of the people.
As bad as the draft looks for the possibility of equality and freedom to materialize in Egypt, there is hope in the resolve and tenacity of Egyptians who may now feel protected enough by the actions of a military leader seen as sincere to vote according to the values represented by their fight. Furthermore, there are promising signs of a hardcore purge of the Muslim Brotherhood organization recently designated as a terror group by Egypt’s interim government, along with other interesting and positive signs for the country. For instance, Interim President, Adly Monsour, paid a visit to the Coptic Pope’s official residence two days ago to extend his personal Christmas greeting to the head of the Orthodox Church – a first in Egypt’s history. How do Egyptians view this unprecedented event?
The visit is seen in optimistic terms as a genuine act of respect conducted by the President of Egypt on behalf of the country toward Coptic citizens – a true turning point for Copts (who to this point have been completely ignored by Egypt’s presidents on Christian holidays) to connect with Muslim leaders across the board who finally recognize the significance of Coptic fidelity, passion and participation. The Imam of Al Azhar’s representative visited the Pope a few days ago, Army General Al Sisi sent his greeting to the Pope, various ministers sent greetings, and the last Egyptian king, King Fuaad, (who was dethroned at age two in 1952) sent the Pope a message of goodwill.
All this appears to be a move toward openness, respect and a new diplomacy. Meanwhile, the stern voices of Islam (Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi) forbid such acknowledgments. But as their fanatical resistance is ignored, it is not to say that empowering Islam and maintaining its dominance have been forsaken. A new draft constitution disregarding equality and religious rights in favor of Islamic religious law now awaits approval.
From the Coptic point of view these overtures feel right and are a far cry from past Christmases marred by bloodshed committed by Muslim thugs motivated by jihad with the blind eye of law enforcement and the courts. This is a major step toward basic decency, if not equality. However, in spite of this pleasantry, Copts have a legitimate fear of attending churches regarded as potential targets on the most sacred of days. Law enforcement is utilizing bomb-sniffing dogs at churches across Egypt to prevent terror attacks.