- (Photo: Reuters/Asmaa Waguih)
Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood's newly chosen presidential candidate, Khairat al-Shater, has declared earlier this week that introducing Shariah law would be his "first and final" objective if he wins elections in May and June.
"Shariah was and will always be my first and final project and objective," Shater was quoted saying on Wednesday to a meeting of the Religious Association for Rights and Reform, of which he is a member along with figures belonging to the hard-line Salafi school of Islam. In comments reported in a statement issued by the Association, Shater told the meeting held on Tuesday night that he would establish a special entity to help parliament achieve this objective, according to media reports.
The news spurred outrage among the global Christian community which is watching Egypt's power transition carefully. Shater's statement increased fears about safety of Egypt's religious minorities, particularly the largest of them, Coptic Christians, who constitute most of the country's 10 percent Christian population and have long had a difficult relationship with the country's overwhelming Muslim majority. Those troubles have existed before and after the ousting of the country's dictatorial president, Hosni Mubarak. The Copts are now living in fear that an Islamic government may bring more persecution from the nation's 90 percent Sunni Muslim majority.
The news also came the same week representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood were guests in Washington, D.C., meeting some "mid-level" officials from the National Security Council. The goal of the meeting was reportedly for the Islamist party to show U.S. officials its moderate side, and for the United States to establish a relationship with the newly elected Egyptian government.
"We have broadened our engagement to include new and emerging political parties and actors," White House spokesman Jay Carney said during Thursday's press briefing. "Because of the fact that Egypt's political landscape has changed, the actors have become more diverse and our engagement reflects that. The point is that we will judge Egypt's political actors by how they action - not by their religious affiliation."
Still, many critics accused the White House of downplaying the significance of the meeting.
However, news emerged this week that undermined the push by the Islamist party to convince the international community of its moderate side. An Egyptian court sentenced a 17-year-old Coptic Christian boy to three years in jail for the crime of publishing cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed on his Facebook page, which also evoked a lot of criticisms.
Earlier this week, representatives of the Coptic minority quit a panel responsible for writing Egypt's new constitution, saying their participation was "pointless" due to the overwhelming majority of the Islamic representatives compared to minority groups. The Coptic group have also been left disillusioned by the Muslim Brotherhood's decision to introduce Shater as their presidential candidate, even though the party that already has an overwhelming majority in the parliament, previously said it will not put forward a candidate for the post.
The new constitution will determine whether Egypt will become a conservative Islamic country and whether the often-persecuted religious minorities will receive sufficient governmental protection.