No fear of islamists

Where is Egypt drifting? A year after the start of the "Arab Spring," the question seems more uncertain than ever. In the West, dealing with the large Christian minority in particular is seen as a litmus test for the success of Egypt's fight for freedom. In an interview, the Coptic Catholic Bishop of Assiut, Kyrillos Kamal William Samaan, looks to the future with great optimism.

CBA: Bishop Kyrillos, a year of dramatic upheavals, hopes, but also religious violence lies behind Egypt. It started with Christians and Muslims demonstrating together for freedom. How much of the common ground of Tahrir Square still exists between the religions?

Kyrillos: I would say very much. The scenes in Tahrir Square at the time are an integral part of the collective consciousness that Egyptian society is taking with it from the revolution. The coexistence of the cross and the Koran was not a show for the media. Remember that Christian songs were sung for the first time in the middle of Cairo, and all the Muslims joined in. The memory of this continues to have an effect on many.
CBA: On the other hand, bloody attacks on churches and Christian demonstrations caused horror.

Kyrillos: Of course, there are religious fanatics and troublemakers from the ranks of the old regime who want to sow hatred between religions because they hope to gain influence from it. But here the picture of the perpetrators is completely opaque. Not even the radical Salafists can be lumped together. I have seen a Salafist preacher in Upper Egypt who spoke at one of the interfaith peace prayers in a church. The great mass of Egyptians traditionally live a peaceful Islam. There will not be a "Christians versus Muslims" struggle.
CBA: Copts were second-class citizens for decades under Mubarak. Has anything changed in that regard?

Kyrillos: Much has improved. For example, under military rule it has become easier to get permits to renovate and build new churches. Azhar University, which played a rather polarizing role under Mubarak, is now also using its religious authority to call for a deepening of the spirit of commonality between Christians and Muslims and is promoting encounter projects for young believers of both religions.
CBA: What remains to be done from a Christian perspective?

Kyrillos: Discrimination in the labor market must be combated. Many public professions are still barred to Christians. In addition, we hope for real religious freedom, in that conversions to Christianity will no longer be hindered. And the important contribution of the Copts to Egyptian history should finally be appreciated. For example, in school textbooks it still begins with the Islamic conquest. The time of the Pharaohs and Christian antiquity are completely ignored.
But realistically, one must not expect too much too soon. I hope for a gradual equality of the Christians.
CBA: The parliamentary elections are likely to have been won convincingly by the "moderate Islamist" Muslim Brotherhood. Salafists also have about a quarter of the vote. Doesn't that scare you??

Kyrillos: Egyptians are a deeply religious people. Their votes for political Islam were not directed against the Christian minority, but against a Western-style liberalism that wants to push the religious out of state life. The Salafists profited especially from poor illiterates who expect material help from them, but who are not haters of Christians. There is more cooperation between Christians and Muslim Brotherhood than it might seem in the West. When a priest was recently murdered in our country, they clearly took our side. I am not afraid of them, they should be given a chance.
CBA: And what about their demand for the introduction of Sharia law?

Cyril: I don't think the Muslim Brotherhood as government politicians will follow through on everything they demanded in opposition. A Saudi-style sharia would endanger Egypt's political and economic development – in other words, the very goals of the revolution. That's why she won't come.
CBA: Many Christians apparently do not share their optimism. Tens of thousands have left the country since the revolution.

Kyrillos: These people leave primarily for economic reasons. Many have wanted to emigrate for a long time, they want a better future for their children. In addition, there is indeed also fear of the political future. We as a church must try to calm these fears. Now we should first wait and see what the new catch will look like in the end. The military will certainly retain some privileges; much is still uncertain, but one thing is certain: God loves Egypt and the Egyptians!

The interview was conducted by Christoph Schmidt.

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