CAIRO: Pope Shenouda’s outspoken support for Gamal Mubarak has reignited the debate about separating religion from the state, promoting alarmed analysts to call for keeping politics and religion apart.
In a recent televised interview, Pope Shenouda asserted his confidence that President Hosni Mubarak would be succeeded by his son, should he choose to run for the position. Speaking to ON TV, the leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church expressed that “most Egyptians love Gamal Mubarak and would vote for him before any other candidate.
Gamal Mubarak, 45, who is currently the General Secretary of the Policy Committee for the National Democratic Party (NDP) has said repeatedly that he has no intention of succeeding his father but that he will remain in his current position at the NDP.
Despite this, Sameh Fawzy, political analyst and commentator, stressed that there is “widespread conviction in Egyptian society that Gamal Mubarak will take over.
The Pope’s recent backing of Mubarak junior isn’t the first time that a religious leader has expressed support for the President’s son to succeed him, so it should come as no surprise, according to Fawzy, who added that “there is a deep-rooted tradition in the Coptic Orthodox Church to always support the state.
Gamal Eid, the director of the Arab Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), asserted that most religious figures support the government in a temperamental manner, and “are hypocritical towards the government.
The Pope, who refused to go into more details at the time, stated that he would comment further when the issue becomes more relevant.
There has been some concern expressed that Pope Shenouda’s support for Gamal Mubarak could affect the votes of his followers. “Religious establishments should not meddle in politics – either to support or condemn someone – as this will always lead to some disturbance, Fawzy said.
Gamal Eid expressed a similar sentiment, saying that, “Clerics must keep themselves away from mixing religion with politics . This applies to the Muslim and Christian clerics, without exception.
When asked how this relates to Pope Shenouda’s personal freedom of expression, Eid replied that religious figures “have the right to express their views, but that they should separate their opinions from their roles, so that their criticism is not considered to be representative of their religious position.
For this reason Fawzy asserts that the leader of the Coptic Church’s opinion “is not a commitment from the whole Coptic community, and that Copts remain “free to support whoever they want as there is a difference between citizens and religious institutions.
“To create a stable state, Fawzy continued, “we have to differentiate between religion and politics, but he recognizes that this is not a problem particular to the Coptic community or even to Egypt as a whole, but that “in the Middle East religion tends to mix with politics and politics with religion.
Pope Shenouda also commented on the implausibility of a member of the Coptic community assuming the presidency, because the “majority of Egyptians are not Copts, adding that “it would not be right for someone from a minority to lead the majority.
He added that Copts don’t even manage to become representatives in the Lawyers’ Syndicate, highlighting the improbability of a Copt winning the presidency.
Pope Shenouda assumed the role of leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church in 1971. His comments come several weeks after his return from the United States where he underwent a thigh operation.