Inside Story
What role can Copts play in a changing Egypt?
As Egypt's Coptic Christians select a new pope, we ask how the growing role of Islam in politics impacts the minority.
Last Modified: 05 Nov 2012 12:34

On Sunday, in an ancient ceremony, a blindfolded boy selected the new pope for Egypt's minority Coptic Christians.

Bishop Tawadros takes over from his charismatic predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, who died in March after leading the church for 40 years.

"We are talking about almost two years since the uprising, many months into the presidency of the current administration but we haven't seen any real, positive, proactive policies of citizenship building, of cohesion .... The last decades have been about separation ... which means that there really must be some very robust plans ahead to overcome those decades and to work on getting back what we saw in the first few weeks of the uprising where people were flying Egyptian flags and it didn't really matter what religion they were."

- Bishop Angaelos, the bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandri

The new Coptic pope, who was born in Cairo and holds degrees in pharmacy and theology, will be enthroned on November 18.

But his appointment coincides with increasingly difficult times for Egypt's eight million Copts.

Coptic Christians form the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. Most live in Egypt, where they make up around 10 per cent of the country's population.

Sectarian tensions between Egyptian Muslims and Copts have been escalating since the 1970s. And the period since Egypt's uprising has been one of the most testing, with a series of incidents leaving Copts feeling particularly vulnerable.

On New Year's Day 2011, a car bomb exploded outside a Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria, killing at least 23 and injuring at least 79.

Then in May 2011, sectarian violence in Cairo killed 12 people. While in October of that year, 25 people died in fighting with the security forces after a protest march in Cairo over the burning of a church.

The new pope says that he wants to work on, among other things, improving relations with Muslims - but the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood has caused some anxiety among Egyptian Copts, who have long complained of discrimination by the state and the Muslim majority.

So, how will the new man in charge deal with a rapidly changing Egypt and the evolving role of Islam in politics?

To answer this, Inside Story, with presenter Shiulie Ghosh, is joined by guests: Bishop Angaelos, the bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria and a member of the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church; Sami Fawzi, a political analyst, specialising in democratisation and citizenship, who writes for the Coptic newspaper Watani; Abdullah al-Ashal, a former Egyptian deputy minister for foreign affairs and a professor of international law and political science at the American University in Cairo; and Mourad Mohamed Aly, the head of public and media relations for Egypt's Freedom and Justice Party.

"As long as the country is strong and gives Copts their rights the Church's role is religious. But if the country violates my rights I will look to the Church for more."

Suzy Nasher, a member of constituent assembly


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