Egypt’s Coptic pope against ‘religious constitution’

Egypt’s Coptic pope against ‘religious constitution’

Egypt’s new Coptic pope said the constitution now being drafted will not be acceptable if it is overtly religious, a sign he would campaign with his Christian minority and secular groups against increasing Islam’s role in the new charter.

In an interview aired on the private TV station ONTV Nov. 5, a day after he was selected patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II said the country’s new constitution, being drafted by a panel led by Islamists, will not be acceptable if it is too religious. He said religious laws have no place in the constitution. “The constitution is for us all to live together, a common life, we need each other. This is the constitution that will bring us together,” he said. “Any additions or hints that make the constitution religious will not be acceptable, not only to Copts but to many sectors in society.”

“If a good constitution is presented in which every person finds himself (represented), there is no doubt Egypt will develop,” said the pope. “But if the constitution addresses one part of the community and ignores another it will take society backwards,” he added.

The election of Egypt’s Islamist President Mohammed Morsi heightened fears among the Copts that their rights might be curtailed. The fears have been further fueled by the process of writing a new constitution, which is dominated by Islamist groups seeking to increase the role of Islam in legislation. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood has said the constitution must be based on Islamic Shariah law, though that statement is open to different interpretations.

Tawadros called on Morsi to reassure the Copts because of what he said were repeated messages through the media or in public that have constituted “threats” or “disrespect” to the community. He called them “unacceptable.”

Tawadros said the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last year has opened the way for a larger Coptic public role.

He said as pope, he will encourage the Christian community to participate more in political and public life, as well as elections. He charged that the country’s Christian minority has been “intentionally” marginalized for years. “After tens of years of marginalization and fake democracy, this has made some Copts isolated,” he said.

Complied from AP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.