Egypt's New Coptic Orthodox Pope Says Constitution Cannot Ignore Christians

Despite fears by Egypt's Coptic Orthodox church that the country's Muslim Brotherhood majority government will draft a constitution mirroring Islamic Sharia law, the denomination's new pope is encouraging politicians to not ignore Christians.

"The beauty of Egyptian society is the presence of Muslims beside Christians. Diversity is strong and beautiful," said Pope Tawadros II during an interview with Reuters news service earlier this week. Tawadros was appointed last Sunday to replace Pope Shenouda III, who died in March after leading Egypt's Orthodox Christians for four decades.

"If a good constitution is presented in which every person finds himself [represented], there is no doubt Egypt will develop," the pope said. "But if the constitution addresses one part of the community and ignores another it will take society backwards."

Tawadros was speaking from Anba Beshoy monastery, one of several Christian desert retreats in northwest of Cairo that served well when Muslim conquerors from Arabia were expanding their communities across Egypt and North Africa, according to Reuters.

Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood majority government continues to debate the phrasing used while drafting its new constitution that will more than likely have Islamic Sharia law as its foundation. A religious persecution watchdog group says the implementation of such a constitution is expected and can only mean deepening trouble for Christians in the country.

"It is hardly a surprise that the Muslim Brotherhood is now pushing Sharia as the law of the land in Egypt," said Jerry Dykstra, director of communications at Open Doors USA. "Strict Islamic law has always been its main agenda for Egypt. President Morsi attempted to disguise this before the election, saying his government would be moderate. Now the true face of extreme Islam is being unveiled to the world. The high hopes of the revolution and overthrow of Mubarak have now been replaced by the reality of another form of extremist government – an Islamist one."

In Egypt's previous constitution, "The principles of Sharia" was the basis of law in the nation. The ultra-conservative Islamic Salafis want the phrasing of the new constitution to read "the rulings of Sharia." This would mean that Egypt's laws would have to mirror Islamic law as outlined by the clerics.

The 60-year-old pope was asked in the Reuters interview what he would do if the constitution was wrought with Islamic references.

"We will make an objection." Apparently, he did not talk about what specific parts of Sharia law would be overbearing, but said he would not call for street protests if the constitution was deemed inappropriate.

"The church does not play any political role at all," he said. "If religion and politics meet, they ruin each other," he said.

The previous pope, Shenouda, had been an important part of the lives of Copts in Egypt, estimated to be a population of anywhere from 5 to 20 million. Evangelical Christians also make up part of the demographics as well, but the numbers are said to be smaller. There is some question as to how strong the Copts can remain on the political scene. Although Tawadros says the church as a whole should not be political, he encouraged Christians to be politically active, according to Reuters.

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