Egypt: now the Muslim Brotherhood are the moderates…

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…

See our last posts on Egypt and the Arab revolutions.

We depend on our readers. Please support our work:

  1. Muslim Brotherhood charm offensive
    The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice Party sent a delegation led by lawmaker Abdul Mawgoud Dardery to Washington this week, to meet with both think-tank and White House figures. The move comes just after the party announced that it will field a presidential candidate—despite saying previously that it wouldn’t do so. The candidate is Khairat el-Shater, a prominent businessman and longtime Brotherhood leader. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the FJP representatives met with “midlevel” officials from the National Security Council and that it was a reflection of the “prominent role” the group now plays in Cairo. (NPR, April 6; WT, April 5)

    We warned last year that the White House is grooming Muslim Brotherhood for an Egyptian Thermidor.

  2. Egypt: court suspends constitutional panel
    Egypt’s Supreme Administrative Court on April 10 effectively suspended the work of the 100-member panel responsible for drafting the country’s new constitution after ruling in favor of a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the panel’s formation. The lawsuit was filed by a number of prominent Egyptian lawyers, challenging the process by which the panel was formed. Specifically, the lawsuit asserts that having half of the panel chosen from parliament violates a 1994 Supreme Constitutional Court decision prohibiting members of parliament from electing themselves to certain positions. The composition of the constitutional panel has been intensely debated, with the domination of the proceedings by Islamists has especially controversial. At least 20% of the members of the panel have indicated that they will withdraw from the panel, criticizing the under-representation of secularists. Islamists currently hold 65% of the seats on the committee, including 50 seats held by members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), and the Salafist Nour Party. The court referred the case to the State Council, which could ultimately refer the issue to the Supreme Constitutional Court. The FJP has stated that they are appealing the court’s decision. (Jurist, April 10)

  3. Egypt bars Mubarak officials from office
    The Egyptian parliament on April 12 passed a bill preventing those who were high officials under former president Hosni Mubarak from running for president. The law bars candidacy for 10 years for anyone who held a rank of party leader or higher during Mubarak’s tenure as president. The law must still be ratified by the country’s military council, which has been filling the role of the president since Mubarak left office last year. The bill was the parliament’s response to an announcement by Mubarak vice president and spy chief Omar Suleiman that he was going to run for president. It remains to be seen whether the law will be ratified before the election commission issues the final list of presidential candidates at the end of this month. The presidential election will take place on May 23 and will be Egypt’s first presidential election since Mubarak stepped down in February of last year. (Jurist, April 13)

    1. More candidates barred in Egypt
      Egypt’s High Presidential Election Committee announced a surprise ruling April 14 barring 10 candidates from the presidential race—including Omar Suleiman, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Khairat al Shater and the hardline Salafist, Hazem Abu Ismail. This apparently leaves former Foreign Minister and chief of the Arab League, the secular Amr Moussa, as the front-runner. It is unclear if he would also be barred as an ex-official of the Mubarak regime under the bill passed earlier this week. (MSNBC, April 14)

  4. Curfew, clashes in Cairo
    A curfew remains in effect for a second night in Cairo’s central Abbasiya district following days of clashes between protesters and government troops outside the Defense Ministry, in which authorities said one solider was killed and nearly 400 people were injured. Media accounts said the protesters were supporters of disqualified Salafist presidential candidate Hazem Abu Ismail, but a spokesman for the candidate is said to have urged an end to the demonstrations at the Defense Ministry, calling instead for a peaceful vigil at Tahrir Square. The spokesman warned the clashes had been “planned” as a rationale to suspend the upcoming elections. Some 300 people were detained in the clashes. (Middle East Online, May 5; Al-Ahram, May 2)