(Photo: Reuters/Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate competing against Ahmed Shafiq in a runoff election to become Egypt's first elected president in 60 years, has allegedly said that the Coptic Christian population should "convert, pay tribute, or leave" the predominantly Muslim country.
The Egyptian news website El Bashayer quoted the presidential candidate as allegedly telling a journalist in the context of a private meeting that he will "achieve the Islamic conquest of Egypt for the second time, and make all Christians convert to Islam, or else pay the 'jizya' (Islamic tax)," according to an article by Raymond Ibrahim of the Gatestone Institute, a nonprofit policy organization.
The conversation reportedly took place at the headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood Freedom and Justice Party.
"We will not allow Ahmed Shafiq or anyone else to impede our second Islamic conquest of Egypt," Morsi allegedly told the journalist. "They (Christians) need to know that conquest is coming, and Egypt will be Islamic, and that they must pay 'jizya' or emigrate."
It remains unclear if Morsi actually made the comments, but recent reports illustrate the presidential candidate as attempting to silence critics concerned that human rights and religious freedom in Egypt would be put in jeopardy should he be elected to the presidency.
Jerry Dykstra, spokesperson for the Christian persecution watchdog Open Doors, told The Christian Post that it seemed unlikely that Morsi would make comments suggesting Christians should convert or leave Egypt. If the Muslim Brotherhood presidential candidate truly made those statements as reported by El Bashayer, then Christians have a reason to fear for their future in the predominately Muslim country, he said.
"It seems a stretch that Morsi would use such strong language when he reportedly is trying to portray himself as the centralist candidate. But perhaps those are his real views and the ultimate aim of the Muslim Brotherhood," Dykstra wrote in an email to CP.
"If so, Coptic Christians certainly have reason to have concern for the future. The next few weeks will be a very polarizing time for Egyptians with heated rhetoric and perhaps additional incidents of violence," he added.
At a Tuesday press conference Morsi promised both women and Christians full access to rights, saying that he would protect women's right to work and education and place "no imposition on women to wear the veil." Morsi also suggested that should he be elected Egypt's next president, the Coptic Christian community would have a say in the government.
"When I am president, the presidency will not be reduced to one person," Morsi said. "The age of superman has failed and gone. The world is no longer like that. I am not like that."
"Our Christian brothers, let's be clear, are national partners and have full rights like Muslims," he added. "They will be represented as advisers in the presidential institution, and maybe a vice president if possible."
In last week's historic elections Morsi walked away with 24.77 percent of the vote, while Shafiq, the last prime minister under the Mubarak regime, finished with 23.66 percent. A runoff election is slated for June 16-17.