CAIRO – As the race is heightening up to elect Egypt’s new president, Christian Copts are favoring Hosni Mubarak-era officials over Islamists to lead the Arab world’s most populous country.
“If religion is mixed with politics, this country will be destroyed,” George Gamal, 50, a Christian from Imbaba district in Cairo, told The Washington Post on Sunday, May 13.
“It will be an Islamic emirate.”
The Christian shop owner says he would vote for candidate Ahmed Shafiq, who was appointed prime minister in the dying days of Mubarak’s regime, in this month’s election.
|Egypt President…Islamist or Liberal|
Egyptians are set to go to polling stations on May 23-24 to elect a new president for the heavyweight Arab country.
Thirteen candidates are vying in the race, including Shafiq, former Arab League chief Amr Moussa, Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Mursi and Islamist Abdel-Moneim Abul-Futuh.
But Copts, who are worried about the rise of Islamists following Mubarak’s ouster, are favoring Mubarak-era candidates in the polls.
“Copts enthusiastically flocked to Tahrir and all major squares to revolt against Mubarak,” Yousef Sidhom, editor at El Watani, a Coptic Christian weekly newspaper, said.
“But no one ever imagined how strong and fierce political Islam would come back.”
Copts, who make up 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million population, complain of discrimination, citing rules that they say make it easier to build a mosque than a church.
They say promises by the military rulers, who took over from Mubarak, to address their concerns and protect them have been ignored.
Tensions have often in the past flared over inter-faith romantic relationships, church building and other issues.
But since Mubarak's removal last year, incidents have spun into violence more swiftly.
Christians say no one has been tried yet for the burning of a church in Helwan, south of Cairo, last year, which left 13 people dead, or for violence in the Cairo suburb of Imbaba that cost 15 lives.
The rise of Salafis in post-Mubarak era has further pushed Copts away from supporting Islamist candidates such as Abul-Futuh.
“People need to know that an Islamist president will lead to civil war,” said Waleed Fawaz, a rickshaw driver.
“This is our country, too.”
Some Copts were open to support Abul-Futuh, a former Muslim Brotherhood leader who casts himself as a moderate Islamist, in the election.
Abul-Futuh has said he would support a law that wouldn’t require official permission for the building of churches or mosques.
He has also said Copts and women should be allowed to run for president.
But the support of Salafis for the Islamist candidate has scared Copts away.
“It scares me that maybe we could become Iran,” said Amir Dous, an upper-class Coptic Christian.
Dous is worried that he could leave Egypt if the country becomes more Islamically conservative.
“We as educated people came out with the revolution and supported it and promised the poor people things would get better,” he said.
“I have the means to leave, but I will leave those people behind, stabbing them in back.”
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