Faith and politics mix in Egypt vote

Faith and politics mix in Egypt vote

Despite Egypt”s official ban on political parties with a religious agenda, faith has been drawn into the fray ahead of the country”s first presidential election.

Ordinary Egyptians do not see a problem in mixing politics and religion.

But for the political elite, the issue has long been controversial, partly due to Egypt”s sizeable Christian minority. Politicians say they fear sectarian politics.

This is also as the official reason

behind banning the country”s biggest Islamic group.

But despite this, opposition leaders have visited the offices of the Muslim Brotherhood in the hope that they can secure their support.

Unlike other opposition parties, the Muslim Brotherhood enjoys broad public support.

Religious duty

One presidential candidate, Ayman Nour, has had his picture taken praying with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

He has promised to lift the ban on the organisation if he is elected.

Representatives of another opposition party, al-Wafd, is also meeting leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Nothing angered those who believe in separating religion from politics more than statements of support for the incumbent, Hosni Mubarak, from the leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities – the Sheikh of the al-Azhar mosque, Muhammad Sayyid Tantawi and the head of the Coptic Church, Pope Shenouda III.

State television has also enlisted the support of Muslim clerics to campaign against parties boycotting the vote.

Viewers were told that it is their religious duty to vote.

The latest intervention from a religious leader came in the form of a fatwa by a Muslim scholar published on the front page of a daily newspaper.

It said that international monitoring of the election is legitimate from the religious point of view.

The Egyptian government has rejected this notion but, by agreeing to use religion to urge people to vote on state television, it has thrown the doors wide open to the very thing it says it wants to keep out of politics.