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Cautious welcome for moves by Egyptian president

ANTAKYA (CNS): Father Rafic Grieche, a spokesperson for the Egyptian Bishops’ Conference, gave a cautious welcome to the reshuffling of top military officials by the president, Mohammed Morsi. 

He said that Morsi’s decisions are “positive in the sense of politics, but we have to see how he uses these new powers.” 

Father Grieche noted, “In his first month of office, we still haven’t seen anything positive.” 

Referring to long-standing demands to reform laws regarding personal status and the right to build churches he added, “He did not implement any law that would please Christians.”

After the former president, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted in February 2011, a military council assumed broad powers and Morsi was not its favoured candidate in the presidential elections held earlier this year. 

On August 12, Morsi deposed two top generals and revoked a constitutional decree issued by the military—just before he took office on June 30—that had stripped the presidency of much of its powers.

He replaced it with one that gave him broad legislative and executive powers and seemingly brought an end to the military’s 60-year dominance of Egyptian politics. 

“In the time of Mubarak we couldn’t say Christians were fully protected,” said Father Grieche. 

He added that since the revolution began on 25 January 2011, there had been “several incidents between Copts and the military” and that Catholics were not very happy with the army, either. 

Many Egyptian Christians blame the military for the killing of more than 25 Christian protesters in front of the headquarters of Cairo’s state television last October. 

Father Grieche said Morsi’s mid-August changes made little difference to worshippers at his Melkite Catholic Church of St. Cyril in the upscale Cairo neighbourhood of Heliopolis, as they are already worried by the political gains of Islamist politicians who they are convinced have long-term plans to transform Egyptian society. 

The priest said many are anxious and several with the means to do so are moving to places like the Netherlands or the United States of America. 

Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Christian weekly newspaper, Watani, admitted that there are serious concerns about Morsi’s changes, but added that the situation was more nuanced. 

“The grave scenario (some believe) is that Morsi dealt a blow to the military in order to try and adopt his Islamist agenda,” he said. 

But Sidhom noted that the president’s retention of two key military leaders as advisers and his choice of replacements did not suggest a drastic change in terms of the makeup of the military. 

“Giving a civilian president full powers is remedying a sick situation. It is a step in Egypt’s favour toward democracy,” he said. 

“It is true that in the absence of parliament, Morsi has more powers than he had, but this also means he may be forced to speed up elections. We might see these in three months if he is sensible and avoids further legal clashes,” Sidhom concluded. 

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