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Egypt’s Islamist president reneges on pr...

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Egypt’s Islamist president reneges on promise of inclusive government

Country/Region: Middle East and North Africa, Egypt

Church leaders in Egypt have criticised Islamist President Mohammed Morsi's new government, saying that is fails to fairly represent the country's sizeable Christian minority.

Mohammed Morsi was elected in June
Mohammed Morsi was elected in June
Faris knight / CC BY-SA 3.0

Following his election in June, Morsi had promised an inclusive administration, saying that his ministers would represent a cross-section of society. He pledged to include Christians in his government, even expressing his intention to appoint a Christian vice-president.

But the new cabinet he swore in last week failed to deliver on those promises: there is just one Christian (the scientific research minister from the previous government), only two women, and no representatives from other political factions or figures from the 2011 uprising.

The acting head of the largest Christian denomination in Egypt asserted that the new government was "unjust" to Christians, saying that one cabinet seat – out of 35 – was not sufficient representation for a community that accounts for a tenth of the population.

Morsi's new prime minister is Hesham Kandil, a devout Muslim, and there are five members of the Muslim Brotherhood in the cabinet. An Islamist has been appointed to the sensitive post of education minister; Christians complain of discrimination within the education system, and this appointment seems likely only to reinforce that.

Seven members of the outgoing, military-backed government have kept their positions in an indication of the power retained by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Salafists, who took around 25% of the vote in the parliamentary elections, are not represented, which may suggest that Morsi does not want to encourage a hard-line approach to the application of sharia.

But it is very difficult to identify Morsi's true intentions given the mixed messages he has sent out and his failure to deliver on his explicit promise of a representative government. On the one hand, he has pledged to protect freedoms, while on the other, he has expressed his intent to implement sharia.

Irrespective of his personal agenda, Morsi will have to balance the interests of the conservative Islamists who voted for him and those of the military, which opposes radical change.

Christians and secular-minded Egyptians fear growing Islamisation, and there are already indications of an emboldened Islam within the country.

Senior Christian leader Bishop Morcos said, "The general climate is turning against Christians. Assaults on Christians have increased."

This was confirmed by the latest United States International Religious Freedom Report, which expressed concern over "both the Egyptian government's failure to curb rising violence against Christians and its involvement in violent attacks".

Last Wednesday (1 August), a Muslim mob looted and torched homes and businesses belonging to Christians, and attacked a church, in the village of Dahshur outside Cairo; 16 people were injured. The day before, 120 Christian families had fled after threats of an attack were made. Tensions between the two communities were raised when a Christian launderer inadvertently burned a Muslim's shirt and subsequent clashes over the matter resulted in the death of a Muslim man.

As well as enduring physical attacks, Christians are increasingly being targeted over alleged "blasphemy" offences. Bishoy Kamel, a Christian teacher from Sohag in Upper Egypt, became the latest victim on 30 July; he was arrested, accused of posting cartoons on Facebook that were considered offensive to Islam and Muhammad. In April, a Christian teenager was jailed for three years for the same offence; this followed the case of another Christian, Makram Diab, who was locked up for six years, for "insulting" Muhammad following a dispute with a Muslim colleague.

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