The leader of Coptic Catholics in Egypt has spoken of an “historic opportunity” for the people, describing how the country now stands on the brink of achieving the “dream” of a democratic system.
Cardinal Antonios Naguib, Patriarch of Alexandria, welcomed the interim military regime’s stated aim of dismantling the autocratic style of government built up over 30 years by Hosni Mubarak, who resigned as president on Friday, 11 February.
Signalling his strong support for the first declarations of the temporary administration which replaced Mubarak's regime, Patriarch Naguib highlighted the importance of the new government’s commitment to a civil system of government.
Speaking from Alexandria in an interview with Aid to the Church in Need, Patriarch Naguib said: “Moving towards a civil, democratic government, rather than a religious or a military one, has been our hope for a long time – it has been a dream.”
The patriarch went on to underline the new government’s pledge to hold elections.
In a country with 200,000 Coptic Catholics and about eight million Coptic Orthodox, Patriarch Naguib said: “We will encourage very much all the members of the Church to participate in the elections. It is for us an historic opportunity.”
Also giving their support for recent political developments were other Coptic bishops in Egypt who welcomed the downfall of Mr Mubarak and said that both Muslims and Christians were uniting behind the movement for change.
Bishop Antonios Mina of Giza said: “For the last few decades there has been a lack of freedom. It was not human. We are pleased with what has happened for it gives us the opportunity for a fresh start.”
Meanwhile, Bishop Ibrahim Sidrak of Minya diocese told Aid to the Church in Need: “Mubarak and his regime did not understand the calls for change that have been going on for five years or more. We are now facing a situation that is critical in a number of ways – politically and socially.”
Both the bishops and the patriarch stressed that the new government’s top priorities were ensuring security and tackling the country’s huge social problems.
Patriarch Naguib said: “The social problems in Egypt are so many and so huge that they cannot be solved in one go. It will take time.
“The country does not have an unending amount of treasure to enable an immediate improvement in the standard of living.”
Patriarch Naguib downplayed fears that political uncertainty would play into the hands of extremists and groups such as the political movement, the Muslim Brotherhood.
He said: “If the Muslim Brothers enter into the framework of a civil society as a party with a very clear programme they are as welcome as any other political party.
“However, if they want to transform Egypt into a religious country with Sharia law then I think that not only the Christians but more than half the population will not accept that.”