Friday, January 17, 2014

As the Yes campaign is set to win referendum, Catholic Church spokesman calls it "a vote against Islamism and Sharia"

Votes are still being counted after Egyptians cast their ballots in the country's constitutional referendum on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

No official results are yet available, but partial results indicate a clear victory for the "yes" side with 98 per cent in at least 25 districts. 

The only reliable figure so far is the 55 per cent turnout, a significant increase over the 33 per cent registered in December 2012 when voters were called to approve the constitution drafted by the Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government.

"Many Western media describe the result as a victory for the military," said Egyptian Catholic Church spokesman Fr Rafiq Greich, in an interview by AsiaNews

Under the new Constitution, the military will apparently have a greater say, but for the clergyman, ordinary Egyptians "voted primarily against religious extremism, sharia and attempts by the Muslim Brotherhood to Islamise the society".​​

Despite the large deployment of police and military forces, several attacks in the Sinai and elsewhere have shaken the country. In the capital, a bomb blew up outside a courthouse a few hours before voting got underway. Clashes between police and Muslim Brotherhood also left 11 people dead. 

For the priest, "the large voter turnout is a show of defiance against Islamist threats, and a signal that the population has confidence in democracy." 

"Such attacks did not prevent people from voting," the clergyman explained. "I am impressed by the large turnout of women, who until a few months ago, under the Morsi government, were in danger of oppression by the increasing Islamisation of society." 

Under the new constitution, men and women are equal with potentially new opportunities for Egyptian women. 

Christians also turned out in greater numbers. In August, Islamists had attacked and destroyed hundreds of Christian houses and churches. 

In some places, like Delga (Upper Egypt), Islamists took over the entire town, re-imposing the "tax on infidels."

During the referendum campaign, Christians also came under attack or received threats. 

In the province of Minya (Upper Egypt), members of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to intimidate the population. 

But the most serious case occurred in Sohag, where militants climbed on the roofs of some houses located along the city's main street, pelting passers-by with stones and in some cases shooting at them. 

In el-Fayoum (about 100 km southwest of Cairo), unknown assailants shot at the Church of St Michael the Archangel on Monday night. 

According to the police, the goal was to intimidate the Christian population against supporting the new Constitution.

According to Fr Greiche, unlike the constitution proposal voted in December 2012, the current one provides many advantages for minorities, including freedom of religion. 

Islam remains however the official religion of the state. 

The new constitution has a provision requiring the government to adopt a law that would give Christians the freedom to build their own places of worship.

For the Catholic Church spokesman, we need to be realist. Whoever rules in the future, they "will have to turn into law what is enshrined in the constitution and meet the demands of the population." 

"If this does not happen," he warns, "we shall find ourselves with yet another odd text useful only to stock bookshelves."

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