Egypt's Coptic Christians Quit Constitution Talks: Participation 'Pointless' Amid Islamist Majority

As the highly awaited new Egyptian constitution is being drafted, the nation's Coptic Orthodox Church announced over the weekend its withdrawal from a panel charged with writing it, saying Islamist domination of the panel made its participation "pointless."

Church representatives suggested that minorities, including Christians, were outnumbered in the panel, just as they are outnumbered in the government and the country, and that they would therefore be unable to exert any influence over the document. It has now become a concern that the new constitution could end up being written entirely by Islamist politicians without full consideration of minority groups.

"The Coptic Orthodox Church General Council agreed with the approval of all of the council's 20 members to withdraw from the constitutional assembly… as it found it was pointless for the church to be represented following the comments made by the national forces about the way the assembly was formed," a state news agency said, quoting a church statement.

In the panel counting 100 people, Christians and other minorities - including only six women - were far outnumbered. The Church is the latest institution to pull out of the panel whose members were chosen by the recently-elected, mostly-Islamist parliament, consisting of Freedom and Justice, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Nour party, an ultraconservative Islamist party. The Church joined calls from liberal and women groups to withdraw from the panel and boycott the Islamist-dominated body, saying that it fails to represent the interests of the entire Egyptian society.

"How can we withdraw from something we have not been a part of," Yousef Sidhom, editor of the weekly Watani newspaper and a Coptic Church official, told The Associated Press. "We are calling on people to withdraw along with other groups that have pulled out."

Some have suggested that the core cause of the Church's decision to withdraw from the panel was the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood backed down on its previous decision not to pursue presidency. If they do, many fear, the government will become completely dominated by Islamists.

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.

Coptic Christians, who form Egypt's biggest religious minority group and constitute most of its 10 percent Christian population, have long had a difficult relationship with the country's overwhelmingly 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 death of Coptic Pope Shenouda last month has added to those worries. Currently, the Copts are divided between whether the next pope should openly and actively "fight the Islamists" or refrain from confrontation to "create a multi-plural society where Christians and Muslims survive," reports indicate.

Egypt has a population of approximately 80 million.

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