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Muslim Brotherhood and Coptic Christians Reaching Out to One Another

March 30, 2011

St. Mark's Cathedral in Alexandria, seat of the Coptic Pope.

During the Jan. 25th uprisings, one of the signs of the new Egypt was Muslims and Christians united against the common enemy–the state.

Since the uprisings ended, however, Muslim-Christian relations have once again become strained, particularly in rural communities and poor urban areas.

Recently, however, two efforts have been made to reach out and bridge the gap.

First, Dr. Mohammad Badi, the Muslim Brothers’ General Guide sent a telegram to Pope Shenouda when he returned from his recent trip to the US.  According to a 22 March report in the Saudi-owned news website Elaph, the Pope responded by calling the Guide on the phone–a first even for this ecumenical leader. The Guide in turn surprised the Pope by asking to visit his church and meet with him.

This outreach follows a visit by the new Egyptian Prime Minister Dr. Issam Sharaf to the Pope at the cathedral March 20. This was the first visit of an Egyptian prime minister to the Pope in almost 30 years, according to Elaph. (I can’t quite fit this into Pope Shenouda’s biography–does this refer to a visit by Sadat before he exiled the Pope or by Mubarak three years later when his exile was overturned by the High Court?)

Pope Shenouda III has been leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church since 1971. The 117th pope, he has been a remarkable leader, tripling the numbers of seminarians, engaging in global Christian ecumenism, and increasing the number of Coptic churches worldwide (in the US the number of Coptic churches jumped from four to 200 on his watch).

Muhammad Badi is the 8th General Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, assuming the office in 2010. He is a professor of pathology in the Veterinary Medicine program at Beni Suef University and has long been an outspoken critic of the Mubarak regime’s treatment of Muslim Brothers as a member of the organizations Guidance Council.

Dr. Ismail Abdel-Fattah, a professor of political sciences, told Elaph that the relationship between the Brothers and the Church will evolve greatly in the upcoming phase in light of the Brother’s newly announced positions. These positions include that the Brothers do not oppose a Coptic person as president and that they reject the idea of Islamic rule that the Copts were concerned about…”

The second recent outreach is a meeting between Muslim Brotherhood leaders and leaders of the Coptic youth movement. The plan was reported March 28 by Al-Masry al-Youm daily, which cited Dr. Issam Aryan, the spokesperson for the Muslim Brothers group.

He revealed that the purpose of these meetings is for each group to share its point of view and concerns. He added: “there are arrangements being made for these meetings. However, the time of these meetings will not be announced in the media until after they take place and  end up in producing a working paper or joint activities.”

Neither the Muslim Brotherhood not the Coptic Church distinguished themselves by their leadership during the Jan 25 uprising. In both cases, the leadership was slow to embrace the revolutionary aims of the protesters, and slow to commit their considerable organizational resources once they had.

Both are said to be facing charges of irrelevance from internal youth movements, and both fear the loss of young members to secularism, or to more personal and active forms of religion–salafism on the one hand and evangelicalism on the other.

The challenge of the revolution is to take the solidarity and communitas that developed in the protest phase in Tahrir, and find ways to structure these social relations into the new emerging state. These meetings–if they really take place–are very important steps by which both institutions can show their commitment to continuing the Christian-Muslim rapprochement of Tahrir Square, and their commitment to being significant players in the politics of the new Egypt.

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