• November 22, 2005
  • 4 minutes read

Egypt Copts sound alarm over Islamist advance

Egypt Copts sound alarm over Islamist advance

Egypt Copts sound alarm over Islamist advance

Domination by NDP not at risk but will e have to face substantial challenge from Muslim Brothers.

By Jean-Marc Mojon – CAIRO

Egypt’s Christian Coptic minority voiced concern over the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood Monday, after the still illegal Islamist opposition group made impressive gains in parliamentary elections.

"I am sounding the bell to warn Egyptians that if the Muslim Brothers come to power, Egypt will be an Islamic state, like Iran or Sudan," said prominent Coptic thinker Milad Hanna.

The Brotherhood claimed it had won another 13 seats in the second phase of the three-stage elections, adding to the record 34 seats they won in the first, and stood to win more seats in the 454-member legislature in second-round run-offs in constituencies where no candidate won outright.

In the outgoing People’s Assembly, the movement commanded the support of just 15 MPs, all of them elected as independents.

"Had these elections been fair and transparent, maybe the Muslim Brothers would have won a majority," Hanna said, in reference to reports of widespread fraud, voter intimidation and violence from ruling party thugs.

The domination by President Hosni Mubarak’s National Democratic Party is not at risk but it will for the first time have to face a substantial challenge in the People’s Assembly if the Muslim Brothers make further gains.

"I was always friendly with the Muslim Brothers," said Hanna, 81.

"My aim was to prevent conflicts, notably in small villages, so that Coptic minorities are not wiped out. Now I sense that the political map is changing.

"The day the Muslim Brothers win more than 50 percent, the rich Copts will leave the country and the poorer Copts will stay, maybe some of them will be converted… I hope I will die before this happens."

So far only one Copt, NDP heavyweight and finance minister Yusef Butros-Ghali, has won a seat. No candidate from the Christian minority appeared in a favourable position to win a seat in the remaining rounds of polling.

The Copts claim to account for around 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 73 million and have consistently complained of under-representation and marginalisation.

The Muslim Brothers, founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna, campaigned under the slogan "Islam is the solution" but their political agenda remains vague.

Munir Fakhri Abdel Nur, a leading businessman and one of the country’s most prominent MPs, lost his seat in the first phase earlier this month and urged the Islamist movement to spell out its political programme.

Many Copts fear that the Brotherhood, which has displayed great political acumen and flexibility during the campaign, will revert to hardline Islamist policies if they seize power.

"It is high time they outlined their position on economic and social issues… especially their views on the role and place of women and Copts in society," said Coptic writer Samir Morqos.

There was no immediate reaction from the leader of the Coptic community, Pope Shenuda III, who has traditionally enjoyed good relations with the country’s secular government.