By Benjamin Mann and David Kerr
Coptic Catholic Patriarch Antonios Naguib remains hopeful for his country’s future, even as Egypt’s Islamic political parties seem poised to make the largest gains in parliamentary elections this week.
“We have a great hope that a better situation will come out,” Cardinal Patriarch Naguib told CNA Dec. 1, after the Nov. 28-29 vote for lower house representatives in nine of Egypt’s 27 provinces.
“There are many groups that are convinced and working hard for democracy,” the Egyptian Eastern Catholic leader said, “and for a society and constitution based on human rights, and equality, and civic society.”
On Dec. 3 Egypt’s military government is expected to announce the final results of the first round of voting since the departure of former president Hosni Mubarak in February 2011. Early predictions found secular and civic-oriented parties receiving only around 17 percent of the votes.
The Muslim Brotherhood-linked Freedom and Justice Party reportedly won 40 percent of this week’s votes, while the hardline Islamic Salafist movement was said to have received another 20 percent.
“We must learn to live with that,” the patriarch said, acknowledging political Islam as a force in Egypt’s future.
Such parties, he predicts, will not achieve an absolute dominance.
“They are presenting themselves as the majority, (that) they will have the highest place and the highest percent of everything. But the impression is that the result will be much less than that.”
“We have much hope that after declaration of the results, there will be a good place for the democratic and civic groups and orientation.”
These groups, Patriarch Naguib said, would work to secure a place in society for Egypt’s historic Coptic Christian communities.
Christians’ political voice depends in part on how Egypt’s new government will form after elections, and who will become prime minister. Catholics, Orthodox, and other Christians make up about 10 percent of the Muslim-majority population.
The cardinal says his hope for peaceful Christian-Muslim coexistence “also depends on the results of these elections.”
“If Islamists will be a real majority, this will be a great problem,” he said.
But “if they will have a place which is sure, but in a moderate and amicable way,” he expects “life will be much easier for everybody.”
The strictest Muslim political ideology, he pointed out, excludes even members of the same religion.
“For instance, the Salafists do not want to leave a place to the Muslim Brothers, because they say they are too moderate and Islam is not like that according to their understanding, which is not right.”
For the moment, Patriarch Naguib is grateful that Egypt’s first post-Mubarak elections happened without violence, after a tumultuous run-up period in which protesters and police clashed in Cairo.
“Thanks be to God, the last two days when elections were made went quietly and well. There were some transgressions from the part of the Islamists, but with no violence.”