Patriarch Sidrak: Political Islam in Egypt has failed

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Patriarch Sidrak: Political Islam in Egypt has failed

By Gianni Valente, Rome

Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak is the leader of the Coptic Catholic Church. Following are excerpts of the interview which addresses current Egyptian affairs:

 

Your Holiness, the new Egyptian draft Constitution still puts forward the principles of Sharia as the “main source” of legislation. Do you see this as a problem?

“It was expected that there was going to be a reference to Sharia law. What matters is how that general legal reference will be interpreted. Article 219 of the previous Constitution introduced by the Muslim Brotherhood said that Koranic law should be interpreted according to early Islamic law. This favours the interpretations offered by the stricter Koranic schools of thought that were close to the Salafists. Now this article has been removed and the interpretation of the principles has been entrusted to the Constitutional Court.”

Are there any new elements that interest Christian communities?

“One new aspect is that the text provides for the protection of the freedom to build places of worship, within the parameters of the law. Christians and Jews will still be allowed to refer to their own canonical principles when it comes to dealing with issues regarding their individual status and their status as a community. We asked for this right to be extended to all minority religious communities. But they clearly didn’t want to leave any space for Shiites and Alawites.”

 

The new Constitutional text forbids the formation of religious parties. Has this measure been introduced to punish the Muslim Brotherhood?

“Islamist forces will be forced to use language more wisely, avoiding religious discrimination. But this does not mean they will disappear. They will try to find new means.”

 

It is said that a certain trajectory of political Islam in Egypt has reached its end. Do you agree?
 

“The Muslim Brotherhood waited 80 years to come to power only to burn everything to the ground in the space of one year. For a long time they had been a widespread social presence among the poorest sections of society. They were good at raising the masses but proved to be incapable of leading and governing them. They came out on top in the democratic elections because they were the only party that was well organised at a time of great confusion and in light of the political void.  But once they came to power, they forgot all about democracy and started taking control of everything. Their government did not fall as a result of some obscure blitz. Thirty million Egyptians took to the streets to get rid of them. No one had ever seen anything like it.”

  

Back in their homeland, do the Copts still need to “show” that they are not a foreign body or “fifth column”?
 

“During the wave of assaults targeting Egypt’s Christian minority last August, no Egyptian Christian appealed for outside help or intervention and no one reacted using bellicose religious tones. Our Church, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch Tawadros and the Protestants said that the attacks on the churches constituted an attack on Egypt as a whole, not just on Christians. Our reaction steered clear of sectarianism and opened the eyes of many Muslims. They realised that only real Egyptians could have acted like that. Had ours been a sectarian reaction, the Muslim Brotherhood could have said: Look, there’s the proof, they are the enemy, they are the ones who hatched the plot against Morsi’s government.”
 

The mass you celebrated with the Pope on 9 December had a special meaning…
 

“In the St. Martha’s House crape there were Coptic Catholic bishops present plus a group of lay people who had come on a pilgrimage from Egypt. When I was elected patriarch in January, I immediately received the “Ecclesiastica Communio” letter from Pope Benedict XVI. But according to tradition, the act of communion is sealed with the sacrament of the Eucharist. Then Benedict XVI resigned, the Conclave was held and Bergoglio was elected as Peter’s successor. Pope Francis showed his special regard for the Eastern Catholic Churches by expressing his wish to show our communion with the Roman Catholic Church through the sacraments, concelebrating mass in person. Popes usually send cardinals to celebrate on their behalf.”
 

On 21 November the leaders of the Eastern Catholic Churches held a long working meeting with the Bishop of Rome. How did it go?
 

“The Pope spent half a day listening to us and speaking with us. It was the first time I took part in a meeting like that. The others said that this time formalities were done away with; giving way to a clear, free discussion without too much “diplomacy”. We weren’t able to cover everything; we left a lot of things out. This is why it was suggested we formalise this meeting between patriarchs, major archbishops and the bishop of Rome, creating a body that is similar to the commission of eight cardinals, the so-called C-8. We could then meet periodically when concrete problems arise and actively deal with these.”

 

Like Tawadros, you too have invited Pope Francis to visit Egypt.
 

“It would be a wonderful and important occasion. I hope the government also sends an official invitation.”

Tue, 12/24/2013 - 11:45
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