Egypt's Coptic Christians are getting ready to vote on a new pope in December to replace the deceased Pope Shenouda III who died in March – but some are worried that choosing a new Christian leader in the region may only incite more violence from their Muslim neighbors.
"A new pope will not offer any additional protection for the Egyptian Christians. In fact the election may well incite Muslims to more violence. The last thing they want is any hope or solidarity among 'infidels.' The new pope could certainly find himself the new #1 target," said Christian Freedom International (CFI) in a statement emailed to The Christian Post.
CFI works to provide help for Christians in persecuted areas, including Egypt's 8 million or so Coptic population.
Christians in Egypt have faced a series of violent attacks in the wake of the revolution that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak last year and brought to power Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has left many in fear a conservative Islamic rule will be imposed on the country and Christians will find themselves in danger.
The current attacks by Islamist extremists on Western embassies across several Middle East nations, including Libya, Yemen and Egypt, have also raised concerns for deteriorating relations between Muslims and Christians in the region.
Pope Shenouda III was often described as a "protector" of Christians in the region, and had led the Coptic Church for more than 40 years. His successor, due to be elected on Dec. 2, will be chosen from a list of seven candidates to be drawn up on Oct. 4, Egypt's state news agency has revealed.
"I think there's fear that there are no bishops in line to become the next pope that can have the respect of both – Muslims and Christians, and of the government – like Shenouda was able to maintain over more than 40 years as pope of the country," said Aidan Clay, a regional manager at International Christian Concern (ICC) after the pope's passing.
"I don't know if persecution will necessarily increase," Clay added, but noted that the spiritual leader "knew how to make peace with the church and the government."
President Morsi has insisted that the new pope will be a leader for the whole nation, but Christians are still living in fear of being treated as second-class citizens in the Muslim-dominated country where Islamists have gained widespread political influence.