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Posts Tagged ‘Copts’

Egypt Copts dismayed but determined after Morsi win

June 26th, 2012 Comments off

A Cairo cab bearing a portrait of Egypt's newly elected President Mohamed Morsi drives past a Coptic churchMany Egyptian Coptic Christians were dismayed by the election victory of president-elect Mohamed Morsi, but they are now preparing to co-exist with the Islamist while also safeguarding their rights.

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Morsi is a President with No Parliament, No Constitution, and Few Powers: Why He Must Be Conciliatory

June 25th, 2012 Comments off

Egypt has its first competitively elected President, its first civilian President, and its first Muslim Brotherhood, and they are all named Muhammad Morsi. For all the celebrations yesterday in Egypt, he has neither an overwhelming mandate or universal support, and even if he did, the absence of a constitution means it is far from clear what powers he can exercise. He will name a Prime Minister and a Cabinet but has no Parliament; he cannot declare war, is not the Commander-in-Chief, and does not control the defense budget. It is not even clear if he will serve a full term or face new elections when the new constitution is drafted. This Ahram Online piece notes the timeline of SCAF’s stripping the Presidency of its powers.

One of the reasons Morsi was so inclusive in his acceptance speech, appealing to Copts, women, ethnic minorities, etc.,  is surely that he knows all this and also knows that the Muslim Brotherhood hardly swept the elections. In the first round, Morsi won 24.9% of the vote. Less than a quarter of the population. In round two, only 52% of eligible voters voted, and of those voters, Morsi won just under 52% in a near tie with Shafiq. (And the final results almost exactly matched the Brotherhood’s claims of victory. Half those who voted preferred Shafiq, a relic of he old regime, over any Brotherhood candidate. This is from Juan Cole:

A lot of Egyptians (not just secularists, women, and Copts, but certainly including them) don’t trust the Brotherhood’s promises of pluralism, democracy,and tolerance. Having pledged for most of the past year not to run a candidate for President, the candidate they elected in the end may have problems convincing people the Brotherhood keeps its promises.

And of course, there’s SCAF, which has been pretty clear that it intends to keep a close watch on things  until a new constitution is place. Or as this notes:

“President of the Republic” (Morsi)
“President of the President of the Republic” (Tantawi)


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Copts Begin Papal Nomination Process

April 27th, 2012 Comments off

Egypt’s Copts have just completed the 40-day mourning period following the death of Pope Shenouda III, and now the nomination process for selecting a new Pope has begun, with a committee now receiving nominations for the post. This begins a nomination process which will eventually narrow the field to three candidates, with the next Pope chosen by “altar lot” when a young boy draws lots among the three final candidates. See my earlier post here for more on the process.


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Coptic Pilgrims’, Egyptian Mufti’s Jerusalem Visits Stir Up a Hornet’s Nest

April 20th, 2012 Comments off

Thirty-five years ago, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat flew to Jerusalem and spoke to the Israeli Knesset. After the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, regular flights between the two countries were inaugurated. I believe it was in 1983 that I first took an El Al flight from Cairo to Ben Gurion Airport.

Israeli tourists regularly go to Egypt; few Egyptians reciprocate. There are government delegations, businessmen who travel regularly, and so on, but few private Egyptians visit; it’s still stigmatized. Though Jerusalem is holy to both Christians and Muslims, neither group has traditionally made pilgrimages. The late Pope Shenouda III banned Copts from making pilgrimages to Jerusalem, and while some have done so (including at least one bishop a few years ago), the Church does not approve. (For the Copts there are two issues: Israeli occupation of the occupied territories, but also the fact that Israel has supported the Ethiopian Church in a controversy over access to the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, claimed by the Copts. This issue, the Deir al-Sultan, is worthy of a post in its own right, but let’s leave that for another time.)

First, the Coptic taboo was challenged. With the approach of Easter, regular flights began carrying Coptic pilgrims to Jerusalem; some 2000 had gone by Easter. The Church still disapproves, but Shenouda is gone, and many Copts feel the ban is now collapsing.

Then the Mufti of Egypt went to Jerusalem and all hell broke loose. The senior Egyptian cleric paid a quick visit on Wednesday, prayed at the Al-Aqsa mosque, and was accompanied by the Mufti of Jerusalem and other religious figures as well as a Jordanian prince; the Mufti, Dr. ‘Ali Goma‘a,  explained on Twitter that it was an “unofficial” visit aimed at showing solidarity with the Palestinians and the rights of Jerusalem:

No official meetings with any Israelis have been reported (or even alleged), but there has been a huge uproar from Egyptians who consider such a high-level visit as somehow recognizing Israeli occupation of Jerusalem, despite his Jordanian host. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party has  denounced it as a “gross mistake” that imposes normalization with Israel on the Egyptian people.

Zeinobia rounds up much of the debate and print pictures. Meanwhile, The Arabist puzzles over what Gomaa was thinking while also feeling the ban on travel is a mistake.  Salafis in Parliament want him fired, which is the President’s prerogative (that currently being interpreted as SCAF)..

I have never understood why a religious figure visiting a religious site in Jerusalem, and having no official contact with Israelis other than what is absolutely necessary, is somehow “normalization” or recognition of the occupation. But I also recognize that coming at a time when on the one hand the Coptic taboo seems to be eroding but on the other, Egyptian-Israeli relations are extremely fragile, the Mufti’s “unofficial” visit was certain to create an uproar. And it has.

http://www.egyptindependent.com/node/780696

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/39622/Egypt/Politics-/Egypts-Grand-Mufti-visit-to-Jerusalem-sparks-uproa.aspx

http://www.haaretz.com/news/middle-east/egypt-s-mufti-visits-jerusalem-for-first-time-1.425447
Copts http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/defying-church-ban-egyptian-christians-defy-church-ban-and-travel-to-jerusalem/2012/04/13/gIQA7OWOET_story.html

http://fjponline.com/article.php?id=632&utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

http://www.arabist.net/blog/2012/4/19/the-mufti-and-jerusalem.html?utm_source=twitterfeed&utm_medium=twitter

http://egyptianchronicles.blogspot.com/2012/04/way-to-jerusalem-is-always-long.html#.T5CAyOQE_TU.twitter


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Greetings for Orthodox/Eastern Easter

April 13th, 2012 Comments off

Greetings this weekend to all Christian readers who celebrate Easter this Sunday instead of last: most of the Eastern Orthodox (Antiochian, Alexandrian, etc.) and Oriental Orthodox Churches (including Copts, Armenians, and Syrian Orthodox), and the Assyrian Church of the East. A Happy Easter.


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How much Copts trust the Brotherhood

April 8th, 2012 Comments off

Not at all:

A poll conducted by the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations, led by Coptic activist Naguib Gobrail, suggests that a majority of Copts support Amr Moussa for the presidency.

 

The sample consisted of 3000 Copts.

Moussa received 78 percent of votes in the poll, while Islamist candidate Abdel Moneim Abouel Fotouh got 22 percent, Gobrail said. The Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, Khairat al-Shater, and Salafi-oriented candidate Hazem Salah Abou Ismail both got zero votes.

 

Not bad for Aboul Fotouh though.



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New Western Attention to Copts’ Concerns as Easter Approaches without a Pope

April 4th, 2012 Comments off

Based on a completely unscientific sample (a personal impression), I seem to be seeing more articles about Egypt’s Copts than usual this year. The recent death of Pope Shenouda and the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood are key factors, of course, as is the fact that Easter is fast approaching, one of the only two times a year (the other being Christmas) that the Western media remembers that Christianity actually had something to do with the Middle East, and then discovers that there are actually still Christians there. Usually you can count on the usual stories from Bethlehem at Christmas and Jerusalem at Easter, but this year the Copts seem to be getting a bit more attention than usual. That would be good in any event since the Church is so little understood in the West, though it comes at a time when Copts are more uncertain than usual about their future in an Egypt where Islamist activism is growing.

So unsurprisingly, much of the tone of these stories is apprehensive, reflecting the concerns of the Copts themselves in this period of uncharted transition. Who the next President of Egypt will be may have as much effect on the Copts as who the next Pope of Alexandria is; and all of Egypt is uncertain on that front.

And the Church is in the news. The papal selection process is on hold until the mourning period for Shenouda ends, and there seems to be a desire to delay the selection beyond the Presidential elections. But the whole constitutional issue has involved the Copts as well.  But just in the past three days or so:

  • Today, Prime Minister Ganzouri is meeting with the locum tenens of the papal throne, or “interim Pope” as the media calls him, Bishop Bakhomious. The report says they’ll be discussing the papal election process, the role of the Copts, etc. The article fails to note, and Bishop Bakhomious will be too polite no doubt to bring it up, that this whole meeting is a formality, since no one — SCAF, Parliament, and presumably Prime Minister Ganzouri himself — pretends that the Prime Mimister has any power to control events or make real decisions.
  • Meanwhile, the sort of petty but persistent obstacles the Church often faces continue. A prominent and controversial Coptic activist, Father Felopateer Aziz, who is under a travel ban for his role in the Maspero clashes last October, was held at the airport for hours before the travel ban was lifted. (His first name, by the way, in this article spelled as above but often unfortunately transliterated “Flopateer,” conceals the old Greek Christian name of Philopater.)

This coming Sunday is Easter in the Western calendar; the following Sunday is this year’s Eastern date, observed by the Copts and most other Eastern churches. It may be to the Copts’ advantage (among many competing disadvantages) that the Pope’s passing and the Brotherhood’s rise have brought attention of the world to their ancient church at the precise moment in the calendar when the Western media perennially discover that there are Christians in the Middle East, before they disappear once again until Christmas.


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How the Copts Will Choose their Next Pope

March 19th, 2012 Comments off

With the death of Pope Shenouda III this weekend (see my appreciation of Shenouda here), the Coptic Church of Egypt embarks on a process for choosing the next Pope, who will be the 118th successor of Saint Mark the Evangelist. Since Shenouda reigned for 40 years, it has been a long time since the process of succession has been implemented, so even Copts may need to familiarize themselves with the process.

It is a process likely to take several months at least. There are reports suggesting the Church may delay the election until after the election of an Egyptian President, no excessive delay may be required: the President should be chosen by July 1, while in 1971 the interval between the death of Pope Kyrillos VI and the election of Shenouda was eight months. (It can take even longer; in 1956-59 it took more than two years.) The basic rules currently in force were laid down by a Presidential decree of 1957 by Gamal Abdel Nasser, (link is in Arabic), prior to the election of Kyrillos VI.

Acting Pope Bp. Pachomius

The first step in the transition is the election of a locum tenens or Acting Pope who will preside over the Church during the transition. The holder of this post is considered ineligible to be elected Pope since he will have overseen the electoral process, though in the last century there were exceptions to this. The Acting Pope has already been named, Bishop Pachomius (Bakhomious), Metropolitan Archbishop of Buheira.

The Holy Synod — the body of Coptic bishops — is the Church’s man ecclessiastical body; the Millet Council (Al-Maglis al-Milli) is the lay body of prominent Copts who have provided a voice for the laity since 1874. These two bodies play a key role in the creation of the electoral council to choose the Pope. Each nominates nine of its members, presided over by the Acting Pope to form a 19-member Council, which receives nominations. These are then voted on by the Holy Synod, the Millet Council, and a third body, created by the 1957 decree, which consists of prominent Copts from each diocese, former Ministers and MPs, and other notables. This body may be the way the state maintains some oversight in the selection process.  At the end of a vetting process, the Electoral Council announces the names of no fewer than five and no more than six or seven candidates. This process can easily occupy three months, so once again little delay is required to postpone the papal election past that of the President.

Under the Presidential decree, the only specified requirements are that the candidates be 40 years old, never married, and have spent at least 15 years as a monk. However, an ancient tradition of the church was to choose the Pope directly from a monastery, not from the bishops (though the bishops themselves are all drawn from the monks, in the Eastern tradition). This was relaxed in the 20th century and several Popes wee elected from the bishops. Shenouda himself was a general bishop (administering a Church-wide department, not an individual diocese). There are some who favor returning to a monks-only rule; others who accept election of a General Bishop but not a Diocesan Bishop, and others who believe precedent allows the election of Diocesan Bishops as well. At least one prominent figure, Bishop Bishoy, is both a General Bishop as Secretary of the Holy Synod and the Diocesan Metropolitan Bishop of Damietta. This eligibility issue is likely to be argued within the Church in the coming weeks and months.

In the Acts of the Apostles, when the eleven remaining Apostles sought to replace Judas Iscariot, they chose a new Apostle by lot. The final decision in the election of a Coptic Pope is still carried out, by ancient tradition, by what is known as the Altar Lot. The Coptic faithful, including their children, gather at the Cathedral of Saint Mark in Abbasiyya. A young boy is randomly chosen from the congregation, blindfolded, and draws a name from a box on the altar. The name drawn becomes the successor of Saint Mark.

Just as Italians love to speculate on the papabile or papal candidates when it is time to elect a Roman Catholic Pope, so Copts speculate about the candidates for their Papacy, and the question of whether Diocesan Bishops are eligible comes into play.  But that will be the subject of a separate post in the coming weeks.


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Grieving Copts bid farewell to Pope Shenuda

March 19th, 2012 Comments off

Tens of thousands Egyptian Christian Copts bid farewell to Pope ShenudaTens of thousands of grieving Coptic Christians packed St Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo to bid farewell to Pope Shenuda III, his body on a wooden throne, as the church considers a new head for the anxious community.

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Coptic Pope Shenouda III, 1923-2012

March 18th, 2012 Comments off

His Holiness Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa and the Preaching of Saint Mark, died Saturday at the age of 88. He has long been ailing from back and kidney problems and appeared extremely frail at the Christmas liturgy in January and in more recent appearances, so his passing is not a surprise, but coming at a time of rising Islamist political influence in Egypt and recent tensions between Copts and their Muslim neighbors, the succession of the See of Saint Mark is of considerable political importance to Copts and other Egyptians alike.

Shenouda’s reign of over 40 years, 1971-2012, was an unusually long one (though Pope Kyrillos V, 1874-1927, at 52 years holds the record), and his papacy has many accomplishments to boast of: the enormous growth of the Coptic diaspora, and the creation of bishoprics in Europe, the Americas, and Australia; the great expansion of Coptic education and improvement of seminaries at home and abroad, the building of new churches, improvement of ecumenical links with Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches, and much more. But he also created controversies throughout his reign as well. He emerged as something of a protégé of the popular and saintly monk Matta al-Maskin, who had once been his confessor, but with whom he had a theological falling out, leading to the banning of some of Matta’s work. Beyond such internal Coptic theological issues, most of the controversy surrounding him involved his role in politics, and his very different relationships with the two Presidents whose presidencies coincided almost exactly with his papacy, Anwar Sadat and Husni Mubarak. (Shenouda came to power only a few months after Sadat assumed the Presidency, and survived just over a year after Mubarak’s fall.

His predecessor, Kyrillos VI, had been a close ally and friend of Gamal Abdel Nasser, which I discussed in this post last year.Sadat initially saw Shenouda as an ally, but Shenouda became increasingly critical of discrimination against Copts, attacks on churches, and other issues. When the Coptic diaspora in Europe and America began agitating for Coptic rights just as Sadat was being hailed in the West for his visit to Israel, he blamed Shenouda and the two men became increasingly antagonistic. When Sadat cracked down on all his critics shortly before his assassination in 1981, he deposed Shenouda and sent him into internal exile in the desert monastery of Anba Bishoi in the Wadi Natrun. After Mubarak succeeded Sadat, the restrictions on Shenouda were relaxed, and in 1985 he was fully restored to his papacy. (A Council of Bishops hard governed the church in his absence.)

If Shenouda had had a confrontational relationship with Sadat, he had a very different one with Mubarak. Perhaps chastened by his deposition and exile, or genuinely grateful for his restoration, he was an outspoken supporter of Mubarak, even when many of the faithful at home complained of government neglect and tacit toleration of attacks on Copts. Many Copts abroad became critical of the Pope, at least of his political support of Mubarak. In recent years, he even appeared supportive of the project for Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father. Many supporters of the Revolution, especially among Copts, felt the Pope was too cautious too long, though in the end he was cautiously supportive.

The timing alone assures that the choice of his successor will be an important one, not just for Copts but for Coptic-Muslim relations as a whole. A new Pope will, in fact, once again begin a papacy almost at the same time as a new, elected President.

A locum tenens  will be named to run the church during the transition. I will be posting soon on the complex unusual process for choosing the next successor of Saint Mark, and will no doubt find I have more to say about the legacy of Shenouda III. Whatever one’s verdict on his reign, it was one of the more eventful in the recent history of the ancient Church of Saint Mark.


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