x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Egypt's new Coptic pope opposed to religious constitution

Egypt's new Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II said he would reject a constitution still in the making if it imposed a religious state.

CAIRO // Egypt's new Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II said he would reject a constitution still in the making if it imposed a religious state.

Pope Tawadros, whose minority community has become increasingly fearful of the rise of Islamists to power in Egypt, also urged Christians not to leave the country stressing that they have coexisted with Muslims for centuries.

"A constitution that hints at imposing a religious state in Egypt is absolutely rejected," he said in an article published by Al-Watan newspaper yesterday.

A 100-member Constituent Assembly, dominated by Islamists and including politicians and public figures, tasked with drafting the new constitution is to vote on the new charter on Sunday.

The new constitution is to replace the 1971 charter suspended by the military which took power when Hosni Mubarak was forced out as president in February 2011.

Under Mubarak, and according to initial drafts of the new charter, the constitution says vaguely defined "principles" of Islamic law are the main source of legislation.

Egypt Christians and Jews may conduct their personal status affairs according to their own religious laws, according to an initial draft published by the official MENA news agency.

Addressing Copts who might be considering leaving Egypt, which has seen a spike in sectarian attacks on Christians over the past two years, Pope Tawadros said Egypt was a "sacred land that has no equal in the world".

"As for our brothers in the country, whether Islamists or any others, we lived together for 14 centuries," he told the state-owned Al-Ahram newspaper.

Copts, the Middle East's largest Christian community, have suffered an increase in attacks that killed dozens of Christians after the overthrow of Mubarak and many had opposed the election in June of President Mohammed Morsi, an Islamist and former leader in the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Morsi has pledged to allow the Christians equal rights, but the once banned Muslim Brotherhood has repeatedly said it wants to gradually impose an Islamic state.

On October 23, an Egyptian court meant to rule on the fate of the Islamist-dominated constitutional panel instead referred the case to a superior court which has already expressed its opposition to the draft charter.