A few days ago Ibrahim Eissa, editor of Egypt’s Al-Dostor newspaper, had an interesting op-ed questioning whether Pope Shenuda, leader of the Egyptian Christians, was violating the concept of citizenship with his (alleged) interference in political affairs. Is he a Pope or a Zaim ( political leader)? asked Eissa.
The Copts consist of at least 7 million of Egypt’s 78 million and generally adhere to the principle of secularism and citizenship, in the sense that they try to play down religious differences under the law. They know that numerically they can never compete with the Muslims, so for the most part they espouse secular citizenship. This is understandable as some Islamist parties, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, argue as part of their official platform that neither Copts or women should be eligible to run for President.
Pope Shenuda (mid-80s) , the leader of the Coptic Church since the early 1970s has been in Ohio for the last couple months receiving medical treatment. Upon his return to Cairo he was greeted at the airport by an official government delegation. Eissa article addresses this.
Its great that Pope Shenuda is greeted like this… but its evidence that the Egyptian state is distancing itself from the principle of citizenship. This was clearly a political delegation. The Pope is being treated as political leader of the Copts and not as their religious symbol (which Eissa views is a mistake)
Before anyone misunderstands, let me reiterate my deep respect for the Pope. I only wish Egyptian Muslims had a leader they could love and respect so much, instead of the state appointed clerics who lack any legitimacy or credibility.
However, this doesn’t prevent me from saying that Pope Shenuda has turned the Coptic Church into his personal monopoly. Coptics have transformed from people of his Church to citizens of his church. Notice how delegations were sent to his Hospital bed in Ohio, not to discuss trivial religious affairs, but things much more important. ..Notice how everyone was saying “wait till the Pope returns” before we can settle these affairs. It goes to the extent that we don’t know if he is the Coptic religious guide or political guide.
This is a dangerous game and a violation of the principle of Citizenship that Copts and Muslims both call for. And the NDP plays right along in their treatment of Pope Shenuda. Note the recent announcement of a major Bishop that he and most of the Church leadership would be supporting Gamal Mubarak in future presidential elections is a clear intervention in politics.
Closing the article: “Thanks be to God that the Pope has gotten better, but now we call on him to open the doors of the Church to let the Copts act as citizens of the state and not as citizens of the Coptic Church.”
As a non-Egyptian its not my place to comment on what “should” or “should not” be happening in Egypt.
But Eissa brings up a lot of good points, and it does seem that the Pope’s behavior and especially the recent endorsement of Gamal Mubarak by a major Bishop is not consistent with the principle of citizenship or secular separation of religion and state that the Copts often call for.