By John Pontifex
MOHAMMED MURSI’S victory in Egypt’s presidential elections could be good news for the country’s Christians, according to a senior Coptic Catholic bishop, who said he was “optimistic” about the future.
Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria of Luxor said he and fellow Copts were much encouraged by President-elect Mursi’s post-election victory speech yesterday (Sunday, 24th June) when he said he wanted to reach out to Christians as well as Muslims.
Speaking from Luxor in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop Zakaria said the Muslim Brotherhood candidate’s success was a cause for hope in spite of many Christians’ concerns that the party’s apparent openness masks an Islamist and intolerant policy agenda.
The bishop said that many people in Luxor had voted for opposition candidate Ahmed Shafiq in the 16-17 June run-off elections but were reassured by Mr Mursi’s speech yesterday, which suggested a positive approach to tourism, vital to the local economy.
“The people of Luxor are so afraid that the Muslim Brotherhood will stop tourism but they are now hoping that what Mr Mursi said in his speech will be true.”
Bishop Zakaria, who was guest-of-honour at last month’s Night of Witness ACN UK event in London, highlighted reports that Mr Mursi was considering choosing a Copt for the post of vice president and had spoken in support of tourism and women’s rights.
Saying he was “optimistic”, Bishop Zakaria said: “We hope he will honour his promises made in his speech after he was announced as President.”
The bishop referred to an extract in Mr Mursi’s speech where he said: “Egypt is for all Egyptians; all of us are equals in terms of rights. All of us also have duties towards this homeland. As for myself, I don’t have rights. I only have duties…
“We Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, are advocates of civilisation and construction.”
Commenting on the speech, Bishop Zakaria said: “It is true that in the past the Muslim Brotherhood have not lived up to their promises.
“When you are not in power, you can say what you want but they now have the big responsibility of government, it is very different.”
He said: “Once people listened to Mr Mursi’s speech, they were not worried. Things are calmer. The people are waiting to see what he can do in the future.”
Bishop Zakaria’s comments come after Bishop Antonios Mina of Guizeh (Giza) told ACN a month ago that the Muslim Brotherhood was a cause for concern because it had a track record of failing to honour its promises of being liberal and tolerant to non-Islamist groups.
Turning to other key factors, Bishop Zakaria said tackling Egypt’s huge economic problems was a top priority for the new president.
He said that political turmoil had devastated Luxor’s local economy, which is heavily dependent on tourism, and that unemployment was now at almost 50 percent.
The bishop said the new president needed to build a political consensus in order to tackle economic problems.
He added: “We hope he will create a new government involving all the parties, not just the Muslim Brotherhood. We are praying for this.”
The bishop said that, after careful and comprehensive monitoring of election news reports, he was hopeful that the Muslim Brotherhood would not pursue an Islamist agenda.
He argued that the Mr Mursi’s very narrow majority of 51.73 percent meant he would not wish to alienate the many who voted for Mr Shafiq, one-time prime Minister under Hosni Mubarak, the ex-president.
Bishop Zakaria was a keynote speaker at the ACN UK Night of Witness in May when the charity organised an outdoor rally and prayer vigil for suffering Christians at London’s Westminster Cathedral.
Directly under the Holy See, Aid to the Church in Need supports the faithful wherever they are persecuted, oppressed or in pastoral need. ACN is a Catholic charity – helping to bring Christ to the world through prayer, information and action.
Founded in 1947 by Fr Werenfried van Straaten, whom Pope John Paul II named “An outstanding Apostle of Charity”, the organisation is now at work in about 130 countries throughout the world.
The charity undertakes thousands of projects every year including providing transport for clergy and lay Church workers, construction of church buildings, funding for priests and nuns and help to train seminarians. Since the initiative’s launch in 1979, Aid to the Church in Need’s Child’s Bible – God Speaks to his Children has been translated into 162 languages and 48 million copies have been distributed all over the world.
Aid to the Church in Need UK is a registered charity in England and Wales (1097984) and Scotland (SC040748). ACN’s UK office is in Sutton, Surrey and there is a Scottish office in Motherwell, near Glasgow.
While ACN gives full permission for the media to freely make use of the charity’s press releases, please acknowledge ACN as the source of stories when using the material.
For more information, contact John Pontifex, ACN UK Head of Press and Information 020 8661 5161 or John Newton, ACN Press Officer, 020 8661 5167.