.- Christians need to cooperate in creating Egyptâs new government to ensure that all of the nationâs citizens are treated as equals, according to Jesuit Fr. Samir Khalil Samir.
Hosni Mubarak, Egyptâs president for nearly 30 years, stepped down on Feb. 11 due to pressure from demonstrators that had occupied Cairoâs central Tahrir Square for 18 days.
Fr. Samir, an Egyptian expert in Islam and adviser to the Church on Muslim-Christian relations, noted the resignation of the president was the will of the people but said that it is the next step that really counts.
Mubarakâs government catered to the wealthy classes for three decades, âwhat we need now is something to help people to live a little more humanly,â Fr. Samir told CNA over the phone after the announcement.
âMaybe after this, after having passed through an authoritarian regime, people will really try to do something more democratic,â he said.
He was encouraged by the fact that the protests sprang from the people. He marveled that they were âmoderateâ and included all ranks and religions in society.
âChristians and Muslims were together. We didnât have any extreme appeal to Islam. Also, we didnât have any aggression against Israel or the U.S., any flag burned,â he said with apparent surprise.
The result is âa new hope for Egypt,â he said.
What is most important now, he explained, is that the reformed constitution brings with it equality for all people, Christians and Muslims.
He pointed to recent signs of hope that show that winds of change were already in place for this in society. A local magazine released a new 22-point project written up by moderate Islamic intellectuals on Jan. 24. It includes a provision that calls for a distinction to be made between state and religion.
In his New Yearâs Day address, ex-President Mubarak referred twice to development towards a âcivil societyâ âthe Egyptian pseudonym for a separation of church and state.
Thatâs not to say that people donât expect an âIslamic trendâ in the new government, said Fr. Samir. It would be a ânormalâ occurrence in Egypt, where 90 percent of the population is Muslim.
A âsecularâ government like that in Lebanon is preferable to one that is completely âone-sided,â he said. He is not expecting religion to be absent from the debate in a country where all people, Muslims and Christians, are very religious.
He expects the Muslim Brotherhood to attempt to exert its influence on society as they often have, but he said that their influence has been widely overestimated.
âUsually they âIslamizeâ more external aspects, like the veil and what you can see,â said Fr. Samir. âIt could happen, we are used to it.â
They will work to convince people that men and women should not work together, should dress in a certain style and that some jobs are not appropriate for women. âBut, they cannot put a law (in place) for that,â he said.
Egyptian society, he said, âhas made an evolution to distinguish between morality and law.â
And, he mentioned, the moderation of the group in recent years in Egypt shows signs âthat the Muslim Brotherhood is also going this way.â
The Brotherhood represents a similar threat to Egypt as âaggressive atheistsâ do to the West, he said.
The key, he added, is not to fear Muslims. Christians have to work together to convince them that âthe true religion is something in your heart and not in your appearance - in your clothes and in your dress,â he said. âYou can be a very good Muslim and not have the appearance of a Muslim, and you can be a very good Muslim having a Western culture.â
âAll of us Christians, but also open-minded Muslims, have to spread this approach to religion,â he said.
Nevertheless, the âthreat of Islamization ... exists alwaysâ in the Egypt where there is such a large-percentage Muslim population, said Fr. Samir.
The major concern for Christians at this point is ensuring equality, especially in three major areas, according to the Jesuit priest. The first is equality in the job market, âthat there will not be a preference for a Muslim over a Christian.â
In addition, Christians should be allowed to obtain building permits for churches as easily as their fellow citizens do for mosques. A law from the late 1800s has made it very difficult for Christians to build until now.
The third point was that of the liberty of conscience. Egyptians should be free to convert from Christianity to Islam and vice versa with no threat of harm against the person who converted, he said.
Those may be mostly âsymbolicâ points in nature - as there are not many people who seek to convert -but âat least it means we recognize the rights of conscience which is over the tradition or over the religion.
âThe main point is this: that we are all under the same rule,â he said.
Egyptians had made the âsmall stepâ of being able to speak more freely about equality in recent years, he said, âand if, on the occasion of this small revolution, we obtain something more, itâs good.â
Christians, he said, must be âcarefulâ to act in the process of cultural development and politics, to make themselves present in society rather than holing themselves up in âghettos.â
âChristians must be very much involved in the society, in the political and social and economic world of the nation,â said Fr. Samir.
They have a role in society and sometimes they do not take it up because of fear of Islam, he explained.
It is essential to respond with honesty and truth, said Fr. Samir. âI have to say what I have to say, and if something, someone is saying something wrong against Christianity, I have to correct it. And if Iâm saying something wrong I have to agree that the other side corrects me.â
In the previous government, Christian officials were appointed by the president because in popular elections they did not stand a chance.
The key, he said, is that all are given the same chance and that the best people are placed in the positions they deserve.