Election results in Egypt worry Catholic leaders

Egypt goes to the polls for parliamentary elections Peter Macdiarmid Getty Images News Getty Images CNA Egypt goes to the polls for parliamentary elections. | Peter Macdiarmid, Getty Images News.

Catholic leaders in Egypt voiced surprise and alarm at the success of Islamist groups in the first round of Egypt’s parliamentary elections but stressed that the process is still in an early phase.

The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party took 36.6 percent of the vote while the Salafist Al-Nour Party—an even more extreme Islamist group—garnered 24.4 percent.

By contrast, the secular Egyptian Bloc won only 13.4 percent of the country's 9.7 million valid ballots, the Associated Press reported on Dec. 5. 

Fr. Antoine Rafic Greiche, official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, said leaders expected the Muslim Brotherhood “to do well but we did not expect at all the success of the Salafists.”

“Their success is a big surprise and a cause for alarm not just for Christians but for moderate Muslims who will be very annoyed by what has happened,” he told Germany-based charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“The Salafists’ attitude to Christians is to say that they can get their passport to go to the USA, France, UK or somewhere else in the West,” the priest said. “They always talk about Egypt as a Muslim country even though there are up to 13 million Christians living here.”

Fr. Greiche reported that the Salafists have discussed forbidding tourism, barring women from wearing swimming costumes, and forcing them to be “totally covered up.”

They want to implement Sharia Islamic law “rigorously” and they “look at Christians and even moderate Muslims as 'Kuffars,'” a derogatory term for non-Muslims.

Fr. Greiche said that the Muslim Brotherhood is also hardline but would be angered by the Salafists who, by comparison, have very limited political experience.

Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut in Upper Egypt also responded to the election.

“We are not afraid of the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “The success of the Salafists has surprised us but we must wait and see what happens in the next two rounds of the elections.”

Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza, another Coptic Catholic, said the Muslim Brothers “know what they are doing.”

“I am afraid what they, and the Salafists, might do if they got power,” he said.

The two bishops and Fr. Greiche warned against pre-judging the situation.

“We have to wait and see what happens next,” said Bishop William. He said the secular and liberal parties are “very young” and may develop and collect more support.

“It is too early to say what these results are going to mean,” added Bishop Aziz.

In Cairo and Alexandria, accusations of electoral malpractice resulted in part of the vote being thrown out and scheduled for a re-vote, Fr. Greiche reported.

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The strong Islamist showing left many of the youthful activists who took part in the uprising against former president Hosni Mubarak feeling that their revolution had been hijacked, the Associated Press said.

The new parliament is supposed to select a 100-member panel to draft Egypt’s new constitution. However, the ruling military council has suggested it will set criteria for the choice of 80 parliament members, and has also said that parliament will have no mandate over the formation of a new government.

The next stages of the vote will take place on Dec. 14 and Jan. 3.

In a Dec. 1 interview, Coptic Catholic Patriarch Antonios Naguib told CNA that he remains hopeful that there will still be “a good place” for democratic and civic groups that work to secure a place in society for Egypt’s historic Coptic Christian communities.

It will be “a great problem” if Islamists attain a real majority, but if they have a place in “a moderate and amicable way” then life in Egypt will be “much easier for everybody.”

There are also ruptures between Islamist groups. The Salafists do not want a place for the Muslim Brothers because they view them as too moderate, the patriarch noted.

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