As Egypt protests continue, Cairo patriarch concerned about rise of a ‘religious state’

Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib of Cairo
Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib of Cairo

.- The head of Egypt’s tiny Catholic minority is urging a return to order in the country after 11 days of anti-government protests.

Patriarch Cardinal Antonios Naguib of Cairo praised the largely peaceful demonstrations. However, he warned that their efforts will have been in vain if the outcome is an Egypt ruled by Islamic extremists.

In the face of protesters’ demands that he resign, President Hosni Mubarak appointed a vice-president and announced he would leave office in September.

“Now it remains to be seen who will take up the succession and what direction they will move ahead,” Patriarch Naguib told CNA in an e-mail on Feb. 4.

“If the State is a civil state, based on equality, citizenship and law, as many are asking for, it will be an historic success. If, on the other hand, it is transformed into a religious state, we will have lost all of the past acquisitions, and the entire population will suffer — Christians and Muslims.”

The Patriarch said the demonstrations have been marked by a spirit of Muslim-Christian cooperation.

“Christians and also a great many Muslims have lived and are still living this beautiful experience, it is hoped that this spirit and this cooperation last,” he said.

Catholics — who make up only five percent of Egypt’s Christian minority in a country that is 90 percent Muslim — aren’t likely to play much of a role in the deliberations over Egypt’s future.

Egyptian authorities ordinarily identify the head of the country’s Coptic Orthodox Church, Patriarch Shenouda III, as the voice of the Christian minority in the country.

Patriarch Naguib, however, said that Catholics “have confidence” in Patriarch Shenouda’s “wisdom.”

He added that the Orthodox and Catholic communities and their leaders for the most part operate independently.

In the current crisis, he said, “there has not been any communication between us,” although the two patriarchs have separately supported initiatives calling for prayer and protections for protesters and Church buildings and other properties.

Patriarch Naguib has been a vocal supporter of interfaith relations and cooperation in the North African nation. In a mid-January message to the Catholics of Egypt, he urged them to be active in creating "national brotherhood," to lead cooperative efforts to build up the nation.

On Feb. 4, he made a public declaration imploring peace among citizens and "light and wisdom" from government officials.

It is time for the people to return their homes and jobs and "recuperate what has been lost in these days," he said.

He added that the Church has been impressed by the caliber of the young people who led the protests.

“We are proud of the young people who have been able to organize themselves, through modern means of communication, to express the just demands and expectations of the population, in a peaceful and educated way.”

What is needed now, he said, is “the return of peace and order, then the normal resumption of life and work.”

He hoped that in the months to come there will be gradual improvements and steps toward meeting the protesters' demands for political reform and improvements to resolve the economic burdens faced by Egyptians.

Catholics, he added, along with other citizens in the country, are living “these days with much anxiety, but not without pride and hope.”

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