Reactions to the passing of Pope Shenouda III, leader of Egypt’s Coptic Christians, reveals much about the country’s ominous but still tentatively hopeful political situation. Compass Direct News, which documents persecution of Christians around the world, on March 23 noted the effluence of hate that spewed forth from Egypt’s newly powerful Salafist movement:
As Christians across Egypt continued to mourn the loss of Pope Shenouda III this week, Islamist leaders of the Salafist movement issued a litany of insults, calling the late leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church the “head of the infidels” and thanking God for his death.
The vitriol indicated the level of hostility the Salafists, who now make up 20 percent of Egypt’s parliament, have toward Christians. In a recorded message released on the Facebook page of one leading Salafi teacher, Sheik Wagdy Ghoneim, the sheik celebrated the pontiff’s death.
“We rejoice that he is destroyed. He has perished,” Ghoneim said on Sunday (March 18), the day after Shenouda died at the age of 88. “May God have His revenge on him in the fire of hell—he and all who walk his path.”
After the cleric issued his statement, several others followed suit, releasing insults throughout the week. On Monday (March 19) in the lower house of Egypt’s parliament, the People’s Assembly, several Salafi members refused to stand in remembrance of Shenouda during an official moment of silence. Others left before the moment of silence took place.
A more nuanced picture is offered by The Economist, March 24:
Post-Mubarak politics thus far gives a mixed picture. Some MPs from the Nour Party, representing the ultra-conservative Salafi movement, walked out when parliament held a minute of silence for Shenouda. Later a spokesman explained that “a minute of silence does not exist in Islam”. The more moderate—and dominant—Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood, have been kinder. Saad Katatni, a leader of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party and the speaker of parliament, said that Egypt had lost “one of its national icons, a man who left a void in the political arena at a critical time.” Even so, the Brotherhood still refuses to accept that a Christian should be eligible for the presidency, and has been criticised, along with Salafis, for seeking to fill half of a future constituent assembly with elected MPs. This, critics say, would result in the new constitution being written by a group unrepresentative of the diversity of Egyptian society, with, as in parliament, women and minorities greatly under-represented.
It will be up to Shenouda’s successor to navigate the minefield of post-revolutionary Egypt. Three bishops will be elected 40 days after Shenouda’s death and then a blindfolded child will select the new patriarch from among the three, as ancient tradition dictates.
There is actually some good news here. Note that the Freedom and Justice Party is the more conservative of the two parties to emerge from the Brotherhood over the past year, and is poised to have a powerful place in the new government. Even if hailing Shenouda as a “national icon” was lip service as they continue to oppose full political rights for Copts, this is still preferable to the exterminationist rhetoric of the Salafists…
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