Christians in Egypt brought in the New Year with uncertainty and fear, believing that a dim future awaits them under a newly approved constitution that could abolish the religious freedoms of minorities. While some Christians are bracing themselves for a year of hardship and persecution, others are fleeing the country as quick as they are able.
By Michael Terheyden
12/31/2012 Egypt (Catholic Online) – America’s children (and many parents) woke up bleary-eyed Christmas morning in excited anticipation of colorfully wrapped presents waiting for them under the Christmas tree. But it was not so joyful in many places throughout the world. In some Muslim countries, Christians are afraid to openly celebrate their faith; in others, they do so reservedly.
It was a mixed bag for the Coptic Christians of Egypt this year. Their new government stuffed an Islamist-based constitution in their stockings. This New Year’s Eve, people around the world will celebrate the coming year in hope of a new and better future. But the Copts will pray that they will be able to live in freedom from persecution and celebrate Christmas in peace next year.
The controversy surrounding Egypt’s new constitution goes back to April of this year, when the General Council for the Coptic Orthodox Church unanimously decided to withdraw from talks on the constitution. Shortly thereafter committee members from the Coptic Catholic Church and the Protestant Christian community followed. But it was not just Christians who were frustrated by the Islamists. Many members from Egypt’s secular parties also pulled out of the talks for the same reason.
The reason for these pullouts was that the drafting committee for writing Egypt’s new constitution was dominated by Islamists. Christians and liberal Muslims believed the committee should represent the nation’s diversity, but Islamists said it should reflect the composition of parliament. Islamist groups made sweeping victories in the recent parliamentary elections, and they claimed that their victories gave them a mandate to Islamize Egypt.
The final constitution was drafted by a committee dominated by Islamists, and the Muslim Brotherhood was able to get the new constitution approved just before Christmas. The approval process was based on a two-stage referendum. Voter turnout was unexpectedly low. Only one-third of the people had enough interest in the referendum to cast a vote, but most of the actual voters apparently favored a constitution. The referendum passed by almost a 2 to 1 ratio.
Many people are now worried that “Egypt will witness a new phase of repression.” This especially concerns religious minorities such as the Coptic Christian community. One of their main concerns involves religious freedom and Article 2 of the constitution. It states that “Islam is the Religion of the State, Arabic is its official language, and the principal source of legislation is Islamic Jurisprudence [Sharia].”
Article 2 has been a bone of contention for the Coptic Christian community. They petitioned for its removal under Egypt’s former president, Hosni Mubarak. Although the Copts suffered discrimination under Mubarak, he was trying to steer his country in a secular direction.