Coptic bishop says he welcomes Islamist president

A church leader said Thursday he welcomes an Islamist president provided that he respects the rights of Copts and civil liberties.

Bishop Passanty, the bishop of Helwan and Ma'sara and a member of the Holy Synod of the Orthodox Church, made his comments on the Al-Arabiya satellite network.

Passanty's statement was the first of its kind by a church leader after media reports claimed that Copts voted for former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq during the first round of the presidential election upon church instructions. Bishop Pachomius, the acting pope, has denied these reports.

Passanty directed a message to Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsy, saying: “If you are elected president, remember all that you have said — that Christians have the same duties and rights Muslims have… If you stand by this, we would respect you as president of Egypt and welcome Islamic rule that would establish a civil state with equal citizenship rights for all Egyptians.”

“The application of Islamic punishments needs to be reconsidered with respect to Christians, because these punishments are for Muslims, as are the marriage laws, etc. We have our own Christian Sharia,” he said.

He stressed that he did not support either candidate and was not calling on people to vote for one in particular. He added, however, that, “Shafiq has a good reputation, even in the villages, which demonstrates that he possesses a certain efficiency.”

Passanty said the church does not tell Christians who to vote for and only mentions the qualities of an ideal candidate, including that he should have wide popular support and previous experience in serving the country.”

He added that Copts did not have access to full citizenship rights under former President Hosni Mubarak, and demanded legislation criminalizing religious discrimination.

“All we want is for building a church to be as easy as building a mosque,” he said, adding that Christians do not want to build more churches than they need.

Edited translation from Al-Masry Al-Youm

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