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Catholic fears after success of extremists in Egyptian elections

Bishops react after the hard-line Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party polled 45 percent and the Nour Party polled 21 percent

Catholic leaders in Egypt have expressed alarm after Islamist groups achieved shock success in the first round of parliamentary elections, polling more than 65 percent of the vote.

The hard-line Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party polled 45 percent but the real surprise was the Nour Party—backed by the even more extremist Salafist Islamists—which polled 21 percent. Meanwhile a coalition of secular parties polled only 25 percent in the elections, held last week in nine of Egypt’s 27 provinces including Cairo and Alexandria.

Fr Antoine Rafic Greiche (above), the official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, spoke of his concern overthese statistics in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need.

“We were expecting the Muslim Brothers to do well but we did not expect at all the success of the Salafists,” he said. “Their success is a big surprise and a cause for alarm not just for Christians but for moderate Muslims who will be very annoyed by what has happened.”

Explaining the threat posed by Salafists and the Nour Party, Fr Greiche said: “The Salafists speak about forbidding tourism, preventing women from wearing swimming costumes and forcing them to be totally covered up. They look at Christians and even moderate Muslims as Kuffars [derogatory term for non-Muslims] and say they want to implement the Shari’a Islamic law rigorously.”

The Salafists had taken responsibility for a number of attacks on churches this year and Fr Greiche said that their ‘attitude to Christians is to say that they can get their passport to go to the USA, France, UK or somewhere else in the West.”

“They always talk about Egypt as a Muslim country even through there are up to 13 million Christians living here,” he said, adding that the Muslim Brotherhood were also hard-line but would be angered by the Salafists who by comparison have very limited political experience.

Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William (below) of Assiut, Upper Egypt, spoke after the election results of the need to watch and see.

“We are not afraid of the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood,” he said. “The success of the Salafists has surprised us but we must wait and see what happens in the next two rounds of the elections.”

However Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza (below) said: “The Muslim Brothers know what they are doing. I am afraid what they—and the Salafists—might do if they got power.”

But both bishops and Father Greiche warned of pre-judging the situation, stressing that the elections were still in an early phase.

Fr Greiche said that in Cairo and Alexandria, accusations of electoral malpractice had resulted in part of the vote being scrapped and reset for next month.

“We have to wait and see what happens next,” Bishop William said. “The secular and liberal parties are very young and they may develop as time goes on, collecting more support.”

Bishop Aziz said: “What we have seen over these past few days is only the first phase. It is too early to say what these results are going to mean.”

The next stages of the three-round poll will take place next Wednesday December 14 and  January 2012 3. They  will include provinces and towns and more conservative and rural districts.


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