After a week of delays, the world watched as Egypt’s electoral commission announced Sunday that Islamist Mohammed Morsi, 60, won that nation’s presidential election. Backed by the Muslim Brotherhood movement, Morsi received 13.2 million votes (51 percent) out of 26 million votes cast, defeating Ahmed Shafiq, who had been selected as prime minister by former president Hosni Mubarak.
Morsi, who taught at California State University, Northridge, becomes Egypt’s fifth president, following Hosni Mubarak, who was president for nearly 30 years before mass protests across the country forced his resignation in February 2011.
The news of Morsi’s victory has increased international concerns over the uncertain future of both Christians in Egypt and future relations with neighboring Israel.
Concern for Christians
Michael Meunière, president of the U.S. Copts Association, was in Egypt during the announcement of the new president. He told ReligionToday.com most Christians there anticipate a bleak future in the weeks and months ahead, as history for Christians in Egypt has not been good the past year-and-a-half.
“Leaders are institutionalizing persecution now since many members of the Muslim Brotherhood will be in power now,” said Meunière. “Christians feel left out even though they participated in the revolution more than the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Founder of the Egyptian political party Al-Hayd, Meunière also expressed concern with Morsi’s interest in restoring ties with Iran. Meunière immigrated to the U.S. in 1990, fleeing religious oppression and seeking a better life. He says developing relationships with neighboring extremist Islamic nations could be a sign for even more persecution towards Christians.
Some reports indicate Christians have already left Egypt as a result of the election. Rody Rodeheaver, president of IN Network USA, a global Christian organization, describes the atmosphere as “crazy.”
"It was shocking to me when my staff person said, 'In our church, there have been over 60 people who have left Egypt to go to the U.S. to start a new life because of their fear.'"
During these months of waiting and uncertainty, however, Rodeheaver said he has seen growth in leadership, discipleship, and evangelism training. "There has been this period of ability to do ministry unimpeded. The fear now is that that door will shut."
Rodeheaver contends most Christians voted in the election run-off for Ahmed Shafiq, Morsi’s rival. Shafiq, who received 48.3 percent of the votes cast, is a former prime minister who was viewed as the preferred candidate among Copts, as Christians are known in Egypt, despite his connection to the previous regime.
"Even though he represents going back to the Mubarak era, they were much more comfortable with him than they were with the Muslim Brotherhood."
According to euronews, however, one senior Christian leader is satisfied with the democratic process, after decades of military leaders.
“Thanks to the people’s will, it is really the first time that Egypt has chosen a civilian president in 60 years,” said Coptic Archbishop Salib Matta Sawiris, explaining that since the July 23 Revolution in the 1950s, all of the country’s presidents have come from the military.
Muslim Brotherhood Connection
After winning Egypt's presidential election, Morsi claims to have quit the Muslim Brotherhood to fulfill his promise to create a move inclusive government. In his first speech as president-elect, Morsi attempted to alleviate fears that may exist due to his affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood, calling for unity and said he carries "a message of peace" to the world.
"I will be a president for all Egyptians," he said in the televised address.
Tom Trento, director of United West, a South Florida-based counter terrorism and education organization, doubts Morsi’s sincerity.
“The win of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt is disastrous for the global Christian community, Christians in Egypt and Jews in the state of Israel,” said Trento. “Sharia-compliant Muslim Brothers will do anything to trick people into abiding by their will. That is what Morsi is doing now and it is unbelievable that people might believe this nonsense.”
Trento also believes, while it is doubtful it will happen, there is no reason to believe Morsi won’t at least attempt to make good on his campaign promise to relocate Egypt’s capitol from Cairo to Jerusalem.
“Amazingly, Western elites are jumping for joy because Morsi turned in his Muslim Brotherhood card so, therefore, he won’t really follow through with his desire to make Jerusalem the new capitol of Egypt or reject the current peace treaties calling for peace between Israel and Egypt,” said Trento. “They believe the leopard has changed his spots. Unbelievable.”
Who Will the Egyptian Military Protect?
Unknown by most, significant power struggles exist in Egypt between parliament and the country’s military, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Despite the recent election, the SCAF welds most of the power.
Since, what has been called the revolution of January 2011, levels of violence against Christians have increased. Salafi Muslim (extreme form of Sunni Islamism that rejects democracy and Shia rule) attacks on churches led to the massacre at Maspero where the nation’s military did nothing to protect Christians and even participated in the killings. In rural areas, Copts are consistently terrorized, while security forces ignore the violence; Coptic girls are abducted and forced into Islamic marriages.
Daniel Pipes of the Middle East Forum claims the military enjoys privileges it has held for decades and has simply given the illusion of collegiality with Parliament and the new presidency. While support for the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists is growing, the army still retains power.
Pipes notes Christians can expect little protection from the military in regards to their right to exist. Furthermore, he believes the recent election is simply another signal of a reduced status for Christians in the nation.
“The military is quite willing to sacrifice Coptic interests to distract or form bonds with the Islamists,” said Pipes. “The Christians are exposed in this dangerous game being played.”
Days before the election, the SCAF dissolved the Islamist-dominated parliament and decreed an interim Constitution that degrades the presidency to a subservient role. The move extends the SCAF’s hold on legislative power and abolishes the SCAF’s commitment to hand over power to a civilian government by the end of June.
International Christian Concern (ICC), who acts as a bridge between believers in free countries and believers in persecuted countries, believes the results will unlikely resolve the power struggle between the SCAF and the Brotherhood.
“Many Christians in Egypt were convinced that Ahmed Shafiq was their last hope for a peaceful existence,” said Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East. “The Muslim Brotherhood presidential campaign demanded an immediate transition to a sharia state and a caliphate, leaving no room for Christians within Egyptian society. With the election of Mohammed Morsi, Christians are now looking to the military council — who refuses to hand over power to Islamists — for protection.”
Clay claims if not for the military’s decree to dissolve parliament on June 14, the Muslim Brotherhood would control both the parliament and the presidency, which would likely lead to an increase of persecution and a mass immigration of Christians from Egypt.
“Today, Christians and all Egyptians are wondering what role the president will have,” said Clay. “Will Morsi be stripped of most of his presidential powers by the military, making him nothing more than a figurehead? Or, will the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups embark on a campaign of armed resistance until the military steps down? The answer to these questions will inevitably determine the fate of Egypt’s ancient Christian community.”
Russ Jones is a 25-year award-winning journalist and correspondent. He is co-publisher of various Christian news sites, such as ChristianPress.com, and a media consultant to a number of political and cause-oriented campaigns. He is also a freelance correspondent for the American Family Radio Network, Crosswalk.com and various Christian TV networks. Jones holds degrees from the University of Missouri-Columbia and St. Paul School of Theology. Russ is married to Jackie and together they have four children. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: June 26, 2012