The Copts’ dilemma: faluls or revolutionaries?

The recent presidential elections in Egypt caused a dilemma for the Copts, which constitute between 7% and 15% of the total Egyptian population according to various accounts.  While the Copts led many protests on the way to the 25 January Revolution, many Copts voted for falul (former regime) Prime Minister Ahmad Shafik, as the Church tacitly directed them, since they feared an Islamist president and the charismatic leader Pope Shenouda III passed away in March 2012. While many non-Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood blamed the Copts for the electoral success of Shafik, one should investigate the reasons for the Church’s support of Shafik.

First, historically there has been an entente between the Mubarak regime and Church leadership, namely in the person of the late Pope Shenouda III.  Since the‘Free Officers coup’  , the Church has stood as the political representative of the Coptic community despite the Church’s conflict with laymen. The Church leadership, for example, has always negotiated church construction and renovation issues directly with the President.  Pope Shenouda III managed to have almost full control over his community by centralizing the Church and has brought together Coptic youth via a Sunday School Movement. Whenever a sectarian conflict surfaced the Church and the state apparatus wanted to negotiate to resolve the problem; the church aiming to protect the rights of Copts and maintain its control over them and the state to deny sectarian conflict and to treat the Copts as not full citizens, thereby justifying not implementing the rule of law. A tacit similar approach crystallized between the Church and the SCAF after the Revolution, despite the Coptic losses inMaspero  .
Second, the most prominent presidential hopefuls have been FJP’s Morsy, ex-MB member Aboul Fotouh, Nasserist Hamden Sabbahi and the faluls, ex-Foreign Affairs Minister Moussa and ex-Prime Minister Shafik. Given the Copts’ stance against the Islamist candidates, they had few options and had to choose the best of the worst. Obviously, we don’t know how many Copts voted for Shafik, Moussa, or Sabbahi but it was the Church’s stance to back Shafik. In addition, geographically, the election results do not show the Copts supported Shafik, as he won in the Delta where few Copts live, Morsy in Upper Egypt where most Copts live and Sabbahi in Cairo.  So, why did the Church back Shafik but not others? It has been argued that Moussa used a national unity discourse, similar to that of the Mubarak regime, but that Shafik promised ‘security and order’. While Moussa’s campaign reminded them of sectarianism, for the Church, backed by the SCAF, Shafik has the potential to prevent sectarian incidents and fend off the implementation of Shar’ia.
The above two points indicate how the Church’s choices shaped the Coptic voters’ minds and hearts. Now, the run-off will be between Morsy and Shafik. Who will the Copts support? The FJP’s Morsy while winking at Copts by promising that hisChristian brothers will have full citizenship rights, and will be appointed to senior positions  , has also said that he will implement Shar’ia if he is elected. On the other hand, Shafik’s campaign is based on restoring security, most probably through the SCAF. Will the Copts be falul or revolutionaries?  Whoever the Copts choose, the new constitution must guarantee that Copts have full rights, state exclusion and discrimination should come to an end. Nevertheless, if the Church and the state apparatus continue to pursue their traditional diplomacy, the Copts may never become political actors as individual citizens, but remain the subjects of a neo-millet system.
This piece was first published by openDemocracy.