Egypt's Copts face tough choices in looming presidential elections

News article, posted 04.17.2012, from Egypt, in:
Egypt's Copts face tough choices in looming presidential elections (Photo: Reuters)

It's Easter Sunday, but it's hardly a joyful occasion for Egyptian Copts, who are still mourning the recent loss of their longstanding patriarch, Pope Shenouda III, and eyeing domestic political developments with considerable apprehension.

"Grief remains in our hearts over the loss of Pope Shenouda," said retired Coptic civil servant Audette Abdel-Messih.
In mourning since the pope's death on 17 March, Abdel-Messih added another reason for this year's less-than-festive Easter celebrations: "We don’t know what's going to happen to us. I'm not only talking about us Copts, but I'm speaking about the country in general – nobody knows where Egypt is heading."

Such sentiments are all too common these days among Egyptians – be they Christian or Muslim.

"Where the country is heading to" has become a catchphrase that many people use to reflect their concern about Egypt's confused political scene. No consensus has been reached on the fate of a constituent assembly tasked with drafting a new constitution, while many Egyptians – especially those in Coptic and liberal quarters – fear the domineering influence of Islamist political parties. Others, meanwhile, fear the re-instatement of unpopular figures associated with the former regime of ousted president Hosni Mubarak.

"As Copts, we accept that Egypt's president will always be a Muslim – it's an obvious choice in a country that has a predominantly Muslim population," said Abdel-Messih. "But we don't want a president who discriminates against Copts or be forced into the equally horrible alternative of having to emigrate."

With her children having already immigrated to Canada, Abdel-Messih could easily join them there – but she doesn't want to. "I was born in this country, I was married here, I had my children here, and it's here that I want to die," she said.

But the notion of Egypt "becoming another Saudi Arabia" is something that she cannot reconcile herself with.

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