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Thursday, June 23, 2016

Where are the Copts when you need one?

Coptic Orthodox Christians touch the pictures of the Virgin Mary and Jesus (L) and Pope St. Kyrillos VI for blessings after a religious session by Father Makary at St. Mark Cathedral in Cairo, Jan. 2, 2015.  (photo by REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih)

Where are the Copts when you need one?

Egypt’s Islamist Nour Party is looking for Coptic candidates to run on its ticket in the upcoming local elections. It’s not an easy feat, given the high-profile religious controversy surrounding the subject and the party’s huge losses in last year’s parliamentary elections.

SummaryPrint Egyptian law forces all political parties to include Christians and other minorities, which creates a dilemma for Islamists.
TranslatorSahar Ghoussoub

Word of Coptic candidates running on the Nour Party list in the parliamentary races did not go unnoticed. In fact, it met with cutting criticism from liberal parties and religious authorities, most prominently Pope Tawadros II, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria. In an October interview on the TV show “Hona al-Asema,” he said, “One cannot espouse two ideologies, and those who do are not honest with themselves. The Coptic candidates on the lists of religious parties lack credibility and are honest neither to Muslims nor to Christians.”

Despite those scathing comments, the Nour Party participated in the October-to-December elections in accordance with parliamentary law, which requires political parties to include seven female candidates and three Copts in the electoral lists for 15 parliamentary seats, and nine females and 21 Copts in the lists for 45 seats.

After the party lost to the For the Love of Egypt alliance, the fate of the Coptic candidates on the Nour list was kept quiet and is still a topic of debate.

Are they still part of the party’s lists or did they resign? Will the Nour Party include them again on its list for the local elections set for the end of the year? Party members don’t seem to agree.

Suzan Samir revealed in a May 17 press statement that she had “resigned from the party after the elections, in addition to 10 other Copts.” They had agreed with the Nour Party leadership not to disclose their resignations so as to not affect the party’s popularity, she said.

Samir added, “The party follows a poor policy as it had included Coptic candidates for the sake of the parliamentary elections only, not as it had previously mentioned — that they play a leadership and influential role in the party and among decision-makers. Those who remained in the party are looking for other interests such as running for and benefiting from the local council elections or seeking to remain in the political arena under the banner of the party.”

After the parliamentary elections, Samir had accused the Nour Party of taking advantage of Copts and said the party’s members were unhappy with the presence of women and Copts on their electoral list. She further said the party failed to fulfill its duty toward them, and she talked about splits within the party’s ranks.

Samir had spoken to Al-Monitor in October, prior to the parliamentary elections, about her reasons for joining the Nour Party list. “I joined the liberal Waft Party, but I ran for election on the Nour Party list because I wanted to convey the message of Christ to the party’s members.

“The Bible tells us to love our enemies. By joining the party I was sending a message of love to Copts and Salafists and of the need to apply Christian teachings, which call us to accept and love one another. The leaders and members of the Nour Party are satisfied with the experience of having a Coptic woman on their electoral list, as it is a whole new and different experience for them,” she said.

Another Copt who joined the Nour Party, Nader al-Sairafi, told Al-Monitor he is still a party member but doesn’t communicate often with other members because of his busy schedule. He also said that during the elections the party was working full throttle and it was only normal to slow down its pace after the elections. He stressed that he did not know of any Copts resigning from the party. In fact, he said Samir could not have resigned, because she was never a member in the first place, but merely participated on its list during the elections.

Sairafi said he joined the party not for political interests but because he was convinced of its principles and convictions. He also joined the party’s legal committee and participated in discussions on the draft labor law.

Commenting on the upcoming local elections, he said Nour Party leaders offered him the opportunity to run, “but I turned down the offer because I did not want to compete in said elections.”

Nour Party Secretary-General Shaaban Abdel Alim told Al-Monitor this month he also had not heard about any Copts resigning. He added that the party is getting ready for the local elections and is in need of the Copts’ participation, as all society groups must represented, including Copts, young people and women. He further said that he is against the local elections because the electoral system gives too much power to just one political party or alliance, as happened in the last parliamentary elections.

However, in a May 17 press statement, Abdel Alim had said something different. “There are no disagreements within the party about the Coptic members. Indeed, some of them wished to resign and the party did not object to their decision, but channels of communications were not disrupted,” he said.

Isaac Hanna, secretary-general of the nongovernmental organization Egyptian Society for Enlightenment, told Al-Monitor in an exclusive statement, “The Nour Party won’t announce in the media the names of the Coptic members who are still in the party and have not resigned, which supports the talk that has been circulating about the resignation of many Copts who were part of the party’s electoral list.”

Hanna added, “The party does not believe in nationalism and has no respect for Copts, but was obliged to include them on its list because the law demanded it. Thus, the party seeks to attract Christians who have problems with the institution of the church or those who harbor ambitions to become famous and have little regard to criticism,” he added.

Hanna also said, “The Nour Party will manage to have Copts running on its list in the upcoming local elections, as it knows whom to pick to join it, especially those who are not on good terms with the church.”

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