With under a month to go before polling begins in Egypt’s presidential election, there are worrying indications that instead of this election heralding a first step towards a genuine pluralist democracy, Egypt could be poised to elect an Islamist government committed to the harshest implication of Shariah Law.
For the Christian Copts amounting to 10% of the population, the potential victory of Mohamed Morsi, a candidate backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, has sparked fears that the interests of non-Muslim minorities will be disregarded in favour of a stricter application of Shariah Law.
Presidential front-runner Mohamed Morsi, who has re-introduced the former Muslim Brotherhood slogan ‘Islam is the solution’, has in the past called for an Islamic scholar’s council to determine legislation, as well as advocating the exclusion of women and non-Muslims from political office.
Egypt’s Coptic population have long lived in fear and persecution. And with the recent outbreaks of violence still a vivid memory, many have called into question the progress made since the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. Under the previous regime, Coptic Christians were restricted in almost every conceivable way; including the denial of identity papers, expulsion from government employment and the constraints on Church construction. Now, with the rising influence of Islamist political parties, there is genuine concern amongst Coptic and liberal quarters for the outcome of the election.
Speaking from his office in Westminster, Lord Alton, Honorary President of the British Coptic Association and Chairman of the Cross-Party Working Group on Human Dignity, told the Dignitatis Humanae Institute: “With such a history of persecution, it will be the duty of the next President to redress the inherent discrimination within Egypt. A true, pluralist democracy must rigorously defend the freedom of religion for all its citizens. For too long, Mubarak’s regime waged an overt campaign to purge Egypt of its Christian heritage. If Egypt does not take this opportunity to turn away from this path, a further descent into violence and sectarianism will surely follow.”