An Inside Look at Egypt

Interview With Cardinal Antonios Naguib

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By Marie Al-Sameen

CAIRO, Egypt, MARCH 31, 2011 ( The patriarch of Egypt’s Coptic Catholic Church says his country — some six weeks after the Feb. 11 resignation of President Hosni Mubarak — «lacks clarity» and citizens are expecting «rapid change toward stability, work, productivity and security.»

ZENIT’s Arabic edition spoke with Cardinal Antonios Naguib, patriarch of Alexandria, to discuss the situation in Egypt after the people’s revolt that brought about the resignation of the president.

He offers his outlook on the political situation, the Church’s mission, and the need to «prioritize national interests over private interests» since «Egypt needs her faithful children.»

ZENIT: How do you see the present situation in Egypt?

Patriarch Naguib: The situation in Egypt lacks clarity. The result of the referendum for constitutional reform was in favor of change, with a percentage of 77.2%. All the political forces will now commit themselves to prepare and carry out parliamentary and presidential elections, based on the constitutional plan, which will be presented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. After the elections, the commission that will prepare the nation’s new Constitution will be established. This is the situation from the political point of view.

From the point of view of the internal life of the country, we very much appreciate the work that is being done by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the Transport Ministry, which are carrying things forward in this phase of change. Despite this, the delicate economic, administrative and social situation that the nation is going through is evident to everyone. Hence, we expect rapid change toward stability, work, productivity and security.

ZENIT: Are there ecclesiastical initiatives for greater awareness of the political and cultural role that Christians can have in Egypt?

Patriarch Naguib: Yes, there are many initiatives in many churches to increase cultural and political awareness in Christians in Egypt, and this is happening in all the churches and in parishes and institutions of the Church, in order to encourage Christians to develop their national role, for the good of our beloved nation. This was evidenced, both in the spirit that existed in collecting the electoral cards and in the active participation in the last referendum.

It is necessary to point out here that the Church does not engage in political work, being a religious institution. However, Christians, being also citizens, participate in social life and work with all others to build their country.

ZENIT: The Church, in all her confessions, has rejected the idea of Christian political parties. Can you explain why?

Patriarch Naguib: The Catholic Church does not promote the institution of parties with a religious base, but she calls Christians to participate in political life insofar as they are citizens. She invites them to enter politics on the basis of the principles and programs that guarantee human, moral and national values, the integral rights of man, among which must be pointed out religious liberty, namely liberty of worship and the right to be able to choose one’s religion.

The institution of parties on a religious basis constitutes a confusion between what is religious and what is political, that is, between what is absolute and what is relative. This situation would help neither religion nor politics, because it would lead inevitably to the politicization of religion and to the religious instrumentalization of politics. What really matters is that every citizen, Christian and Muslim, positively comply with his duty with a national and free commitment, a commitment that comes from one’s conscience and convictions for the common good.

ZENIT: Is there really a counter-revolution?

Patriarch Naguib: I cannot say with certainty that it is a counter-revolution. And I prefer to speak of the «movement of change,» rather than «revolution.» I believe, however, that every thought, every behavior and every act that contradicts the principles and objectives that caused the movement of change can be considered a counter-revolution, regardless of who initiates such behavior or thought. The movement of change was born for social justice, for liberty, for the elimination of corruption, and to institute a modern and democratic Egyptian state, for Egyptian national security, to reform education, the economy and the other sectors of the national life. Hence, every initiative that goes against these principles and values acts, in fact, against the movement and can be considered a counter-revolution.

ZENIT: The general guide of Muslim brothers has had a positive initiative, meeting with a group of Christian young people, as a sign of the unity of the country, and has responded to different questions posed by Christian young people with respect for the principles of the Muslim brothers. What do you think of this?

Patriarch Naguib: As a beginning, the Church receives warmly every opening to dialogue and to reciprocal respect, and she doesn’t exclude anyone. Every man has the right to engage in dialogue with another, and he has the right to express his own opinion and to explain his own perspective. The Church is open to all the intellectual, political and social currents present in society. On one hand, she listens and, on the other, she looks at the works. Man is an enemy of what he does not know, and that is why it is essential to know one another mutually. We hope for a social dialogue that embraces all sides and political, cultural and social components in Egypt, to discuss together the questions of our society, to arrive at a better vision and more adequate style to work in the development and progress of our nation and to remodel Egypt on the basis of a correct democracy.

ZENIT: As a member of the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Travelers, do you support the transfer of peoples from one country to another in search of a better life?

Patriarch Naguib: The liberty to move in search of a better life is one of the rights of man; it is sanctioned and protected by international constitutions for the rights of man, and the Church accepts it without hesitation. However, the Church always wants to call the attention of her faithful to the need to study the reason for movement and migrations, to know the positive and negatives sides, so that immigrants are not surprised by difficult situations in the countries to which they emigrate and, being unprepared, find themselves in unenviable situations. The Church invites her children to think in-depth also on the meaning of their presence in their countries of origin, and the spiritual significance of persevering in their own countries, because it is better that they remain in their nations; it is better for them as well as for their nations.

ZENIT: Is there a plan for an official press conference that will clarify the Church’s directives in this important phase of the history of Egypt?

Patriarch Naguib: The idea is good and can be considered. I think it is necessary to wait until the perspective is clarified on the present situation. We believe there are several realities that are still not clear. And the Church expresses her opinion through public statements, which are issued every now and then, when there is need.

We call attention above all to the fact that in this period it is necessary to prioritize national interests over private interests, and this is applicable to all the parties and all the political, cultural, social and religious orientations. Egypt is going though a very delicate period and exacts from every Egyptian who considers himself a genuine citizen that he put the common good in the first place, and that he think about how to look after Egypt and help it to come out of this situation of transition with its head high and stronger than before.

We must dedicate our attention to urgent and sensible questions such as the reform of education, the reform o
f the economy, Egypt’s national security, Egypt’s waters, Egypt’s relations with Arab and non-Arab countries, its historic pioneer role and, culturally, care of the citizen who for a long time has sacrificed his freedom of expression, religion and of conscience, peace and tranquility for the future, health rights, the right to work and have a fitting life, the right to the future for persons and their children.

All this should be on the agenda of every Egyptian and nationalist, no matter what party he belongs to, whether he is a Christian or a Muslim. Our national membership must precede any other membership in this phase, because Egypt needs her faithful children.

[Translation by ZENIT]
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