Egypt Looking for a Better Future

Interview With Catholic Coptic Patriarch of Alexandria

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By Mary Assameen

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt, FEB. 11, 2011 ( The people of Egypt, and in particular its Christians, are looking for a better future, says the Catholic Coptic patriarch of Alexandria.

Cardinal Antonios Naguib spoke with ZENIT about the current situation in Egypt, which has been embroiled for the past 18 days in civil unrest that has left some 300 dead and brought it’s economy to a standstill.
President Hosni Mubarak, who has ruled the country for 30 years, stepped down earlier today.
Q: What is the position of the Catholic Church regarding what is happening now in Egypt?

ZENIT: Undoubtedly, like the other institutions and organizations present in our dear nation, and which forms part of this same nation, the Catholic Church in Egypt firmly denounces the violence and vandalism, and everything that halts the decent and normal life of our compatriots. 

At the same time, the Church encourages a climate of national fraternity and constructive dialogue that increases a sense of true affiliation to our nation. We should promote the spirit of active participation in social life, especially through the duty to vote and all the other national duties.

Concerning the current situation, we encourage participation of citizens in the service of the popular committees, in order to protect the families, the properties, and the private and public institutions that are the nation’s properties. We are aware that the national position builds relations of collaboration and friendliness among all the citizens. And we hope that the interim government reaches solutions that restore stability and security.

Q: Are there Egyptian Catholics participating in the protests?

ZENIT: Yes, they are present since the beginning of the demonstrations in Jan. 25 and until now. They are participating as Egyptian citizens who seek the good of the country. It’s important that they do not say or act in a way that causes violence or vandalism. They also have to know that they should stop an act or an initiative, in case this is required for the good of the country.

We informed our churches of the clear position of the Catholic Church toward the political action. In fact, the [Church] prohibits the clergy from the political action, if it is not related to the protection of the church, or the promotion of the common good. But the [Church] allows the other faithful to exercise this right. Accordingly, they have to participate in the social and political action, express their opinions, and vote in the elections. This gives them the right and allows them to express their ideas and their requests in a legitimate and peaceful way, without any violence. Everyone should freely make before God a decision about what conforms to that.

Q: Did you meet or speak to the president? If yes, did he express his intentions of leaving the country, how is his reaction to the protests?

ZENIT: I called the president’s office, and I informed them that the Catholic Church is participating in the prayer so that this period is overcome safely. We also expressed our support to the president’s decisions about not standing as a candidate for the presidency after the end of his term next September, dissolving the government, and asking the new interim government to take the necessary measures to change the constitution, and prepare for the coming presidential elections. But I did not have a personal conversation with the president.

Q: During the Friday prayer in Teheran, Ayatollah Khamenei invited Egypt to follow the steps of the Islamic revolution of 1979. Do you see this danger? And if this happens, what is the position of the church?

ZENIT: Of course it’s dangerous. The statement issued by the “Muslim Brotherhood” at midnight on Feb. 4, and published in newspapers Saturday, declares that “the group does not have any plans. Their objective is to serve the people, and this is what they have been doing for 80 years. They are making sacrifices for the people’s stability, and seeking that the citizens from all denominations get their rights as a legitimate religious duty and a national commitment. They do not aspire to the presidency, or to any authority or post. They count on the progressive popular and peaceful reform.” We hope that this reflects their real position and orientation. In this case, it will be normal that they observe the general laws of the parties’ foundation, and participate through their representatives in the Parliament and the Shura Council. 

Q: Did you meet with the Muslim leaders to unify the voice during the period of instability in the country?

ZENIT: No, this did not happen.

Q: The economy of Egypt is growing 7% each year, but the population is not benefiting. Don’t you think this is a good reason for the Church to be on the side of the desperate young people protesting?

ZENIT: As everywhere else, and especially in our country, the Church particularly serves the poorest and the most vulnerable and takes care of them. The youth and the other citizens participating in the demonstrations are not poor and desperate. There are people participating from all levels, from university teachers to simple people. We hope that the basic demands of the youth and the majority of the intellectuals and politicians are met by a civil state based on citizenship, justice, equality and democracy; by the constitutional, legislative, administrative and social reforms that achieve this goal practically. This is what guarantees security and safety for all, and allows the social justice and the distribution of public goods to the needy.

Q: How do you see the future of Egypt, and more precisely, the future of the Catholic Church in Egypt?

ZENIT: We are looking for a better future for Egypt, and for all Egyptians. The situation of Christians and Catholics depends on the general situation in Egypt. It also depends on the course taken by the system and its president in the coming period.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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