• Copts
  • July 8, 2007
  • 8 minutes read

Who Will Succeed Pope Shenouda?

Who Will Succeed Pope Shenouda?

Islamist writer Mohammed Mooroo reviews the situation of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church after Pope Shenouda”s departure, especially with the pontiff”s deteriorating health after a number of surgeries he had in the recent period, the recent of which was one he had on the backbone in a US hospital.

Now that the Pope”s latest surgery was a success, Mooroo hoped that it was an opportunity for the Copts, clerics and laity, to debate as to who could succeed the pontiff, given that the papal post continues to be associated with the incumbent pope till his last breath and cannot be changed with a political or clerical decision.” Even when late president Sadat sought to unseat Pope Shenouda in 1981, within the context of what was known then as September decisions, he stopped his activities but didn’t remove him or appoint one instead”, Mooroo said, adding that Pope Shenouda”s charisma brought him to the post of Patriarch of the Egyptian Saint Mark Orthodox Church which embraces the oriental Orthodox Christians especially those in Egypt, Africa and Diaspora in some Western countries.

Chosen a Pope after the death of Pope Kyrollos VI in 1971, Pope Shenouda is the 117th Pope in the history of the Egyptian Church. While Mooroo assured that, throughout Pope Shenouda”s 35 years in the papal residence, the Church in Egypt has witnessed several positive and negative developments. However, the writer says the Egyptian Church has been strongly associated with the Pontiff as he has managed to bring the Church under his way ever since he was brought to the post.” Undoubtedly, the reign of Pope Shenouda is strikingly different from that of his predecessor”, Mooroo said, attributing this to two main factors, mainly Pope Shenouda”s charisma and the difference of the political and social circumstances locally, regionally and internationally.

To drive the matter home, the writer reviewed the developments which Egypt has witnessed throughout the past thirty years, mainly the economic open door policy, the Egyptian- US alliance, the Egyptian- Israeli Peace Accord in 1978 and the ensuing Egyptian – Arab political stalemate, the Arabs” overt or covert peace treaties with Israel, President Mubarak”s  ascending to power, the breakup of the USSR and the ensuing US-monopolized new world order.  These factors and others, the writer continued to say, led to drastic changes in the economic and social situations, which in turn led to the decline of the state”s control in the intellectual area, giving way to new ideologies which oppose to the state”s policy or, at least, working independently.

These local, national and international developments generated a string of changes including shrinking of the middle class in Egypt and the presence of new transnational religious and sectarian belongings, to name but a few. In particular, this latter factor was reinforced by foreign powers which have played in the hands of various sects and groups, with each of them seeking to be in the spotlight nationally and internationally. However, the writer stated several developments which act as the hallmark of Pope Shenouda”s era, mainly:

 – The Orthodox have become more loyal to the Church either due to the decline of the state”s political role or the Pope”s charisma, or even to international circumstances.

– Incidents of sectarian sedition recurred in Pope Shenouda”s era that it turned from passing incidents into a standing crisis.
– The Pope has engaged himself into politics, in violation to the traditions of the Egyptian Church which steers clear of politics, with its attention focused mainly on Christian, spiritual affairs. This attitude on the part of the pontiff, according to Mooroo, raised eyebrows and prompted observers to regard the Egyptian Church as a political party embracing all Orthodox and led by Pope Shenouda.
– Influence of the Copts in Diaspora has come to expand due to several factors, mainly the media and financial support they have gained from American, European and even Jewish organizations.
Given these drastic changes associated with the era of Pope Shenouda, which have had impacts on the Egyptian Church in particular and maybe on the Egyptian social and political reality, the writer sees that his absence after 35 years in the papal residence could generate a jolt within the Orthodox Church, and could even lead to the break up of this establishment, citing the Church”s inability to find a character enjoying the same charisma which Pope Shenouda was endowed with.                                                             

Three options on the Clergy”s agenda
The writer presents readers with detailed data on the Christians in Egypt, saying that they constitute about 6% of the total Egyptian population according official figures, give or take, although some others within the Church circles take the percentage to 10. However, the writer sees the official figures as right to a great extent, citing the successive statistics conducted by even the British occupation when the percentage was also nearly similar to those official figures. The writer says that even this percentage is shrinking due to immigrations and other factors, topped by the rise of age of marriage and the non-polygamy in the Christian doctrines.

According to figures, the Orthodox constitute the majority of Christians in Egypt (about 90%), and there are 1683 official  churches in Egypt in addition to 717 ones which await building licenses, taking the total number to 2400 churches. According to traditions governing the Egyptian Church, the pope is elected in compliance with a law passed in 1975, by which the two recent popes, Kyrollos and Shenouda, were elected. The law stipulates that the Collage of Cardinals which embraces priests inside and outside Egypt, as well as prominent Copts within any Archbishopric, vote for a specific candidate; with the number of voters being estimated at about 2000 persons. The tradition is that the three candidates with the highest votes are chosen, with each name being put in a small box in a dark room, then a child draws one from the box. The name drawn by the child is ordained pope and the President of the State issues an official decree thereof, without the President or any official having authority to unseat him.

The writer monitored three trends which struggle to win the papal post. First, the Pope”s closet cardinals with their influential position by virtue of their yearlong control of the Holy Synod. Second, the trend which is open to the US and the Copts in Diaspora. This trend enjoys an influential standing due to the financial and political backing it receives from the two quarters aforementioned, thus posing a major threat to the Church as it will press for globalization and Americanization including non opposition of Israel. For the time being, it has failed to make a success, but the writer fears it can achieve a resounding success through vote buying and other behind- the- scene means which could make the results tilt in favor of their candidates. Third, the conservatives within the Church who could prefer to take the Church back to its long standing position, settling for spiritual affairs and steering the Church away from politics, out of belief that the incumbent Pope”s political attitude has unnecessarily led the Church and the laity to a string of crisis which could have been avoided. This latter trend, according to the writer, finds it serious to count on the American agenda, preferring instead to abide by the national agenda and be open to the Egyptian political forces, government or opposition ones. The writer expected that this trend will be appreciated by the powers that be,”while it has no significant support within the Orthodox Holy Synod, it enjoys an invisible influence which could make a difference in the election process.”, he said.

Concluding, the writer said he expects a heated covert and overt struggle between various trends and inclinations, and the future of the Egyptian Church will be pinned on the result of this struggle, which, according to the writer, will not only affect the Church but it will expand to include the entire political life in Egypt for years to come.