Egypt’s slide towards an Islamist state has its Coptic Christian community increasingly worried. Their fears were articulated most recently by their newly chosen Pope, Tawadros II, in an interview with journalists. “A constitution that hints at imposing a religious state in Egypt is absolutely rejected,” he said the day after being chosen.
The drafting of Egypt’s new constitution is a tense topic. Egypt’s 100 member Constituent Assembly tasked with that job is scheduled to have the document ready by a December 12 deadline. After that, the new constitution is to be put to a referendum. But the assembly’s Islamists and liberals are struggling to come to a consensus over hot-button issues such as the role of Islam in politics, civic freedoms, and women’s rights — delaying voting on individual articles and putting that deadline in doubt. Without a new constitution, Egypt cannot hold elections to replace a parliament that was dissolved by the courts in June.
Bishop Tawadros was named the new Coptic Christian pope.
Egypt’s Copts have come under deadly attack as of late, and the government has either been involved or turned a blind eye. In March 2011, 13 people were killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians. The Egyptian army waited hours to intervene. October of that year saw 25 people killed when security forces opened fire and drove vehicles into Christians protesting the burning of a church. In February, Coptic families were evicted from their village after rumors of an affair between a Coptic man and Muslim woman. And a little over one month ago, Christian families living in Sinai received death threats from suspected Islamist militants, prompting them to move. The local church reportedly informed the authorities but no action was taken.
A constitution that safeguards the rights and freedoms of Egypt’s minorities would be a first step for the Coptic community in gaining the protections it deserves. But without a government willing to enforce such protections — and thus far it seems like Mohammed Morsi’s administration is not — the Copts in Egypt face an uncertain future.