Copts to shun Islamists in Egypt's presidential vote
- CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's Coptic Christians complained of discrimination under Hosni Mubarak but fear it may get worse if an Islamist takes his place in next week's presidential election.
Long-suppressed Islamists already dominate parliament. Islamist contenders for the presidency say Christians, who form about a tenth of Egypt's 82 million mostly Muslim people, will not be sidelined, but mistrustful Copts will not vote for them.
The single biggest Coptic grievance and the source of most sectarian violence in Egypt is legislation that makes it easy to build a mosque but hard to construct or even repair a church.
A new mosque needs only a permit from the local district. A church needs extra paper work and the president himself must sign off, a task Mubarak eventually delegated to city governors.
Coptic voter Medhat Malak hopes those discriminatory rules will be changed if his choice for president wins - Mubarak's last prime minister and former military commander Ahmed Shafiq.
He worries that an Islamist head of state would make life more uncomfortable for Copts, who blame ultra-orthodox Salafi Muslims for a surge of attacks on churches since Mubarak's overthrow in a popular uprising 15 months ago.
"Islamist policies on Christians are vague. It is possible they would restrict our freedoms to gain popularity among strict Muslims at our expense," said Malak, 33, whose Cairo church has been the centre of a row over whether it has a proper license.
A senior Orthodox Coptic church official said 6 million Copts are among the 50 million eligible voters who go to the polls on May 23 and 24 and again next month in a run-off if no candidate scores more than 50 percent in the first round.
If Christians voted as a bloc - which may not happen - they could help swing an unpredictable race whose main contenders are either Islamists or men who served under Mubarak at some time.
Many voters are undecided, but ask a Copt and most are swift to declare a preference for Shafiq or Amr Moussa, the former Arab League chief and Mubarak's one-time foreign minister.
Both are Muslims, like all 13 candidates, and both were part of the Mubarak era, when Christians complained of being treated as second-class citizens in the workplace or elsewhere.