Standing up for their rights

0316-egypt_bishop-kyrillos-kamal-william-of-assiut.jpgBy Eva-Maria Kolmann and John Pontifex
CHRISTIANS must continue to demand equal rights in the new Egypt according to the acting leader of Coptic Catholics who refuses to be downbeat as the impact of Islamist success in recent elections sinks in.
Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan of Assiut, who is representing Cairo-based Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib now gravely ill, said Christians of different Churches were setting up formal ecumenical structures to safeguard the place of the faithful in Egyptian society.
In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop William recognised the threat to the Church posed by extremist groups and confirmed reports that many Christians were leaving Egypt.
But he added: “The Christians are not afraid. They take to the streets and demand their rights. We have a mission even though we are few in number.”
The bishop, who has been standing in for Patriarch Naguib for the past month, went on to describe the role of Christians in helping to prepare Egypt’s new constitution as “indispensible”.
He said: “The new constitution should be for all Egyptians, not just for one group.”
Church sources have confirmed that representatives of four Christian denominations are involved in the constitution commission.
Bishop William said the Church was upbeat in spite of the success of Islamist parties in parliamentary elections – in January and November – making specific reference to the Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned under the former regime of Hosni Mubarak.
He said: “We have no problems with the victory of the Muslim Brotherhood in recent elections.”
The Muslim Brothers polled 37.5 percent in the elections for the lower house of the Egyptian Parliament but fell short of achieving 50 percent of the total seats available.
The ultra-Islamist Al Nour party of the Salafists achieved a shock 27.7 percent in the elections and commentators have said that this party is likely to gain influence as Muslim Brothers look to shore up support.
Bishop William underlined that many members of the Muslim Brotherhood were more moderate than the Salafis, whose Al Nour party has stated that Islamic Shari’a law should be integrated into Egypt’s new constitution, raising questions about the future rights of minorities, including Christians.
Bishop William asserted the importance of Christians in a country where the faithful are up to 15 percent of the total population – but admitted that many are leaving, mostly for economic reasons.
  He said: “Christians are not strangers in this country. Many Muslims recognise that there were Christians in this country before Islam.”
The bishop highlighted increased ecumenical cooperation since the political upheavals began 15 months ago.
He said a council of all churches was being set up, with meetings for clergy of different denominations, youth, women and other Christian groups – all intended to encourage solidarity and mutual support.

Editor’s Notes

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.