By Oliver Maksan, ACN International
Adapted by AB Griffin, ACN Canada
Montreal, Wednesday January 15, 2014 – Before the start of the two-day referendum on the constitution in Egypt on Tuesday, Bishop Kyrillos William Samaan came out in favour of accepting the draft. Speaking to the international Catholic pastoral charity “Aid to the Church in Need” (ACN) on Saturday, the Coptic Orthodox Bishop of Assiut said: “The text is without doubt an improvement on what applied under the Muslim Brotherhood. I can only urge the Christians very strongly to accept the draft. If the constitution is really taken seriously then the situation of Christians in Egypt will improve considerably.”
Bishop Kyrillos stressed that the text takes account of all the groups in Egyptian society. “This was not the case in Morsi’s constitution.” Egypt’s Christian community, he continued, was very happy. Christian press publications were overwhelmingly advocating acceptance of the draft.
In his view, the fact that article 2 of the revised version also stated that Islamic law would still be the source of Egyptian legislation was not a problem. “This has been the case in Egypt for a long time. Even before Morsi. It never did us Christians any harm. But what is more important is that the new article 3 guarantees Christians and Jews autonomy in matters of civil status and internal Church affairs.”
Bishop Kyrillos also expressed his confidence as regards the construction of churches, which had to date been subject to highly restrictive permission procedures. “The constitution guarantees the so-called celestial religions, i.e. Muslims, Christians and Jews, the same right to build places of divine worship. It also envisages that the new parliament will regulate the details at its first session. I hope that we Christians will then be free at last to build and renovate churches.”
In early December of last year, a committee of fifty revised the preceding constitution adopted under President Morsi and submitted the draft to the interim President Adli Mansour. Representatives of the Churches were also involved in this work. Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza sat on the committee as representative for the Coptic Catholic Church. His Church has about 250,000 followers. Egyptian citizens living abroad were able to cast their votes up to Sunday, and approximately 51 million eligible voters who are resident in Egypt itself were called upon to do so on Tuesday and Wednesday.
The Muslim Brotherhood considers the referendum illegitimate and rejects it. Experience shows that the voting turnout in Egypt is normally very low. Only 33 per cent of those eligible to vote did so for the preceding constitution drawn up under President Morsi.
Observers believe the level of turnout and support for the constitution will be the first official test of the mood as regards the course followed by the interim government which was installed by the military after President Morsi was deposed on July 3 of last year. According to the timetable announced by the army for Egypt’s political reorganization, parliamentary and presidential elections must be held soon after the referendum on the constitution. The order, in which this will be take place, remains unclear.