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Muslim Brotherhood-Coptic relations: A dubious Rapprochement

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  • Bill Samsonoff
    http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/386176 Muslim Brotherhood-Coptic relations: A dubious Rapprochement Noha El-Hennawy 04/04/2011 As the Muslim Brotherhood
    Message 1 of 1 , Apr 5, 2011

      Muslim Brotherhood-Coptic relations: A dubious Rapprochement

      Noha El-Hennawy

      As the Muslim Brotherhood begins its life as an official political
      player, it is attempting to revamp its image to appeal to all
      Egyptians, particularly the Coptic Christian minority that has long
      been skeptical of the Islamist group. But Coptic leaders say it will
      take more than public relations to quell fears of sectarianism.

      "The Muslim Brotherhood want to show that they are not against Copts
      and attract some Christians to join their party," said Naguib
      Gobraiel, lawyer for the Coptic Church. "Eventually, they want to
      delude people and make them think that their paradigm is not
      fundamentalist but conforms with the values of citizenship."

      The Brotherhood is using its website to attempt to building bridges
      with Copts. Earlier this week, it featured archival and recent
      pictures of its members visiting churches. On Saturday, the site ran
      an article addressing Coptic concerns.

      In mid-March, the Brotherhood called for dialogue with Christians,
      who constitute about 10 percent of Egypt's population. Yet the call
      was rejected by the Church and many Coptic public figures, who
      dismissed it as a political maneuver rather than a genuine change in
      the group's values.

      Gobraiel, speaking on behalf of the Church, said that no dialogue can
      be held until the Brotherhood meets four conditions: acknowledging
      that Copts have the right to run for president; recognizing that
      Copts and Muslims are equal citizens; accepting that a woman could
      become president; and apologizing for a statement made by the
      Brotherhood's former supreme guide in which he implied that the group
      would prefer to be ruled by a non-Egyptian Muslim rather than a
      non-Muslim national.

      "If the Muslim Brotherhood address these four issues clearly and
      without any evasion, we will not have any problem with dialogue,"
      said Gobraiel.

      But Brotherhood leader Essam El-Erian said the Church welcomed the
      initiative but declined to take part in an explicitly political dialogue.

      "The dialogue is going on at different levels but not with the
      Church," said El-Erian. He refused to provide details on which
      Christian groups the Brotherhood is meeting, saying privacy is
      necessary for their success.

      "Youths and elites from both sides sit together and there is a series
      of amicable visits to Copts in different provinces," El-Erian added.

      Sami Ermia, head of the General Authority for Christian Youth
      Associations, told Al-Masry Al-Youm that a group of young Copts and a
      well-known Brotherhood leader, who asked not to be named, asked him
      to host the dialogue. Ermia said his NGO will only do that if the
      meeting takes place under the slogan "Justice for all Egyptians." The
      Brotherhood has not yet responded, he said.

      Gobraiel refuted El-Erian's claims about Coptic-Brotherhood dialogue.

      "What is going on are some individual talks, and the Muslim
      Brotherhood has participated in the opening of some Coptic service
      centers, but this does not mean any kind of official dialogue," he said.

      Shortly after former President Hosni Mubarak resigned on 11 February,
      the Brotherhood announced it would form an Islamic-leaning civil
      political party. This reignited an old debate that started when the
      group released its first draft of a party platform in 2007. The
      platform shocked Egypt's Christian and secular communities by calling
      for clerical rule and arguing that women and Copts could not run for president.

      Most of the contentious clauses have been amended, said Gamal
      Heshmat, a Brotherhood leader. The final wording will be announced
      when the group officially unveils its platform.

      "It is normal to have people listen to us rather than hear about us,"
      said Heshmat. "The call for a dialogue is a message that aims at
      diffusing all media-orchestrated fears from the group."

      However, Heshmat was clear that the four conditions outlined by
      Gobraiel are "not acceptable."

      "No party should take a condescending position and dictate a set of
      conditions on the other," he said. "This would not be a dialogue."

      Besides amending clauses that discriminate against Copts, some
      Brotherhood leaders went further, saying Christians can join the
      ranks of the group's "Freedom and Justice" party.

      The well-established Coptic columnist Karima Kamal shrugged off this
      invitation as a "joke."

      "How can you invite Copts to a party that is based on an Islamic
      frame of reference?" wondered Kamal. "This is an explicit attempt to
      make a fool out of the other. The same applies to Copts who want to
      make sectarian parties and say they will let Muslims join in."

      Kamal says that the calls for dialogue with Copts are less about
      substance and more about improving the Brotherhood's image with
      secular and liberal forces.

      Trust in the Brotherhood fell due to its vocal support for a "yes"
      vote in the recent constitutional referendum. The referendum created
      unprecedented polarization between Islamists and secularists: the
      Brotherhood, Salafis and radical Islamic groups supported the
      army-backed amendments, while the Coptic Church and most liberal and
      secularist groups called for an entirely new Constitution. In the
      end, more than 77 percent of voters favored the amendments.

      In many mosques across Egypt, clerics claimed that a "yes" vote was a
      religious obligation, while certain radical Muslim leaders said Copts
      would vote "no" in order to topple the old Constitution, which
      recognizes Islamic law as the primary source of legislation. While
      there is no clear evidence that the Brotherhood was behind these
      sermons, their posters calling for a "yes" vote were circulated
      outside mosques nationwide.

      "The performance of the Muslim Brotherhood in the lead-up to the
      referendum aroused Coptic fears," said Kamal. "There is a lack of
      trust in the Brotherhood and a general feeling that the group is
      being politically opportunistic."

      The amendments are believed to serve the Brotherhood' s political
      interests. The changes pave the way for early parliamentary
      elections, in which the Brotherhood is expected to achieve large
      gains by virtue of being the most organized political faction.

      "The Muslim Brotherhood does not only need to gain credibility in the
      eyes of Copts but in the eyes of the whole Egyptian society," said
      Kamal Zakher, a Coptic writer and activist.

      He feels that the call to hold dialogue with Christians bears
      sectarians undertones.

      "Why are they calling for a dialogue for Copts? Why do not they call
      it a dialogue with the Egyptian street that will include all
      Egyptians?" he said.

      "There is nothing called a Coptic bloc; we are Egyptian citizens and
      we practice politics from a citizenship perspective," said Zakher.
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