July 12, 2012
As Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood attempts to consolidate its political control of Egypt’s presidency and parliament, the formation of a new “Christian Brotherhood” was announced on July 5. The new movement does not have the endorsement of the Coptic Orthodox Church and is described by its founders as either a “sectarian” or a “liberal and secular” organization that will or will not seek political power, depending on who is asked. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, which is still officially unrecognized in Egypt, the new movement will register with the Egyptian Ministry of Social Affairs to obtain legal status. The announcement came at a time of growing sectarian tensions and protests following incidents such as an attack by bearded Islamists on a Coptic woman in the Cairo suburb of Ma’adi for not wearing a veil (al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], July 7).
Though it is only being activated now, the idea for a Christian Brotherhood movement was first advanced in 2005 by Coptic lawyer and activist Mamdouh Nakhla, the director of the Kalema Center for Human Rights (Cairo) and political analyst Michel Fahmy. The two were later joined by Amir Ayyad of the Maspero Youths Union for Free Copts, who played an important role in organizing the group. According to Fahmy, the movement was activated after the election of Muslim Brotherhood member Muhammad al-Mursi as Egypt’s new president to “resist the Islamist religious tide… We created our group to create a balance in the Egyptian political scene.” (al-Arabiya, July 5; Bikya Masr [Cairo], July 5).
Mamdouh Nakhla described some of the goals of the new movement in a recent interview with a pan-Arab daily (al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 7). Noting that the political model of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) has been very successful in Egypt, Nakhla insists that the Christian Brotherhood (CB) will follow this model, at times almost slavishly – for instance, the CB’s political wing will be called Hizb al-Adala wa’l-Hurryiya (Justice and Freedom Party)in imitation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Ḥizb al-Ḥurriya wa ‘l-Adala (Freedom and Justice Party). The CB will also be led by a “Supreme Guide,” just as in the MB. According to Nakhla, “We have been convinced by the Muslim Brotherhood’s success in coming to power, particularly as this group is still officially illegal. This is why we intend to implement this same idea, utilizing even the same hierarchy and positions, which may even have the same names…” The Coptic activist even suggests an alliance with the MB could be possible:
We are prepared to politically ally with them and take part in elections with them on a joint list, which could be called the “Egyptian Brotherhood” list. We may support their presidential candidate in any future elections, on the condition that presidential and ministerial posts are shared between us. Therefore, if they were to win the presidency then the vice president would be a member of the Christian Brotherhood, whilst if they form a government, ministerial portfolios would be shared between us, each according to their [parliamentary] proportion.
Ahmed al-Deif, a political adviser to the new Egyptian president, said in late June that al-Mursi was considering the appointment of two vice-presidents, a Copt and a (presumably Muslim) woman (Egypt Independent, June 26). The idea, however, ran into opposition from Egypt’s Salafists, who oppose such appointments but would permit the appointment of a Copt as a presidential adviser (Egypt Independent, July 2). The main candidate for a Coptic vice-presidency is Dr. Rafiq Habib, a Coptic intellectual who is vice-president of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, the leadership of which describes him as “a valued and very much respected member” (Ikhwan Web, August 10). Nakhla notes that Dr. Habib has joined the Muslim Brotherhood “and is promoting their views; in fact sometimes he is even more unwavering in this than the members of the Muslim Brotherhood Guidance Bureau themselves!” (Al-Sharq al-Awsat, July 7).
While reaction from the Muslim Brotherhood is still forthcoming, Nakhla does not expect any opposition to the Christian Brotherhood from that quarter: “They cannot object to this idea, for if they object, then this means that they must dissolve their own organization.” Surprisingly, Egypt’s Salafists have expressed no objections to the new movement; according to Salafist Front spokesman Khalid Sa’id: “As long as they [the Christian Brotherhood] work within a legal framework, in accordance with their religion and their faith, and aiming for the country’s interests, there is nothing wrong with it” (al-Arabiya, July 5).
Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Guma’a has urged al-Mursi to address the fears of his Coptic “brothers” as part of an effort to form a consensus based on the “common, national, Egyptian civilization” (Al-Masry al-Youm [Cairo], June 27). So far, al-Mursi appears to share the Mufti’s opinion, meeting with interim Coptic pope Bishop Pachomius only two days after being declared the victor in Egypt’s presidential election.
The new president’s outreach efforts stand in contrast to the heated days of the two-stage election, when al-Mursi and other members of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party accused the Copts of “betraying the revolution” by voting exclusively for Air Force General and former Mubarak administration prime minister Ahmad Shafiq, despite ample evidence that the Coptic vote was split between a range of candidates (Egypt Independent, May 29). Like the Muslim Brotherhood, the Coptic Orthodox Church remained aloof from the momentous events of last year’s Egyptian revolution, unable or unwilling to split from its traditional cooperative approach to the Mubarak regime.
This article first appeared in the July 12, 2012 issue of the Jamestown Foundation’s Terrorism Monitor.