Pope’s Plan Adds to International Pressure for Syrian Solution

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Pope Francis is leading widespread global opposition to Western military action in Syria, proposing a six-point plan in preparation for peace in the country as well as calling for a worldwide day of prayer and fasting. The pontiff’s popularity and proactive approach, which stands in contrast to his predecessor whose influence in foreign affairs was hobbled by personnel problems in the Vatican, is making it harder for the Obama administration and other pro-intervention governments to win the support of their electorates.

pope4The Pope’s efforts, described as the Vatican’s largest peace initiative in 30 years, have been largely driven by Syria’s bishops, whose flocks were protected by the regime of Bashar al-Assad and now fear the threat of rising Islamist persecution. At least two Catholic priests and two Orthodox bishops are being held captive by rebel forces in Syria, and it is feared that an escalation of the conflict will place their lives in further danger.


Background
In the six months since his election, Pope Francis has mounted a concerted campaign for peace in Syria and the Middle East. His position, promoted by the Holy See on the world stage, has been a persistent call for “encounter and dialogue,” which he sees as the “only option” for Syria.After the Aug. 21 chemical weapons attack in Damascus and the threat of escalation, the Pope stepped up his calls for peace. On Sept. 4, he wrote a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin and the G-20 leaders meeting in St. Petersburg, urging them “to lay aside the futile pursuit” of a military solution to the conflict and instead renew their commitment to dialogue and negotiation.He also made a veiled criticism of Putin, President Obama and regional leaders accused of arming the two sides in the conflict, saying it was “regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria, one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding.”The following day, the Holy See summoned all the Rome-based ambassadors accredited to the Holy See to a meeting to be fully briefed on the Vatican’s position – one that has been carefully devised in close consultation with the patriarchs and bishops of Syria. In a rare move, the Holy See presented them with a detailed six-point program in preparation for a possible peace plan. The three-page “non paper,” or aide-memoire, obtained by LIGNET through diplomatic sources, focuses on “following general principles.” These include re-launching dialogue and reconciliation, avoiding division of the country into zones, and maintaining its territorial integrity.The Holy See asks that there be a “place for everyone” in a new Syria, in particular for minorities such as Christians. It says Alawites, Assad’s minority ruling sect, must also have guarantees or they may be forced to emigrate or risk their own lives by remaining in the country. “Such a risk would make it more difficult to reach a compromise with them,” the Holy See says, and it argues that all minorities must be involved in preparing any new Syrian constitution or laws.

The document proposes establishment of a ministry dedicated to minorities, insists on the concept of “citizenship with equal dignity,” and emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights and religious freedom. It also stresses that members of the opposition must “distance themselves from extremist groups, isolate them and reject terrorism openly and clearly.”

The last of the six points underlines the importance of ensuring “all necessary cooperation and assistance for the immense task of reconstruction in the country.”

“Absolute priority must be given to ending the violence,” the Holy See says, adding that the “joint effort of the international community is essential.” Furthermore, it stresses the importance of respecting humanitarian law and argues that one “cannot remain passive” in the face of continuing violations of it. “The use of chemical weapons must be stopped and condemned with particular determination,” it says.

The document is particularly strong on humanitarian assistance, saying the situation is “extremely grave” and that it is foreseeable by the end of the year that half of Syria’s population will need assistance. To allow aid to reach all parts of the country, the Vatican plan calls for a ceasefire, even a partial one, and guaranteed safety for aid workers.

Recalling that the Roman Catholic Church is “at the forefront in providing humanitarian aid,” the Holy See also appeals for “solidarity and cooperation” on the part of all governments in the region and nongovernmental organizations.

The document ends by stressing the urgency of the cessation of violence, avoiding a possible “sectarian degeneration” of the conflict. It reiterates the need for dialogue and negotiation and underlines that the focus must be “on the good of the people, not the seeking of positions of power or other unilateral aims.”

On Sept. 7, Muslims and Christians around the world heeded Pope Francis’ call for a day of prayer and fasting which culminated in a peace vigil in Rome.

Francis told the large crowd in St. Peter’s Square that war was “always a defeat for humanity,” that it is caused by “idols, by selfishness, by our own interests,” and that only the cross of Christ will bring “reconciliation, forgiveness, dialogue.”

Countless churches across the world took part in the day of prayer, leading the Vatican’s spokesman to describe it as the Roman Catholic Church’s largest peace campaign in at least 30 years.

Analysis

Diplomats in Rome have been surprised and impressed by the Holy See’s determination in promoting the church’s concerns about the escalating conflict in Syria. Those who attended last week’s briefing of diplomats were also surprised by the detail of the “non paper,” which they saw as an effort by the Holy See to restart the Geneva II negotiations. Those talks, aimed at ending the Syrian conflict and organizing a transition period and post-war reconstruction, stalled earlier this year as the United States was unable to persuade the Syrian opposition to take part.

“The briefing showed us that the Vatican means business; it’s not just rhetoric or platitudes,” one ambassador said. Many noted the high level representation of diplomats attending – 71 countries in all – and see it as a testament to the Holy See’s increasing influence on the world stage under Pope Francis. One diplomat told LIGNET that the Argentine pontiff has such a popular following worldwide that governments in favor of military strikes on Syria “will probably find it very hard to face their electorates if it goes ahead.” 

Despite being the world’s smallest state, the Holy See has the world’s oldest diplomatic service and permanent observer status at the United Nations. And as the spiritual leader of 1.2 billion Catholics, the Pope continues to be an internationally respected figure on moral issues. 

Under Pope Benedict XVI, the Vatican’s relevance on the international stage declined as the former pontiff was forced to focus on internal troubles. He also may have been ill-served in global diplomacy by his deputy, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, who was a canon law expert and not a Vatican diplomat – unusual for that position.

Francis’ forceful stance on Syria is said to mark an end to that impasse. 

Conclusion

Although it is not rare for a Pope to call for world peace, Pope Francis’ determination to avert an escalation of the conflict in Syria and bring about a lasting peace is being heralded as a new era for the Holy See on the world stage, one in which the church’s contributions on moral and ethical issues are more widely heeded. It marks a return to the kind of global presence Pope John Paul II showed, and which sometimes proved effective, most notably with regard to Soviet communism. 

Although doubts remain about the effectiveness on policy of papal pleas for peace, on this conflict, where global public opinion is mostly opposed to a Western military strike, the Pope’s pronouncements and actions are resonating with many, and governments are beginning to take notice. One can expect the Pope to keep up the pressure until the situation improves. 

Read more: http://www.lignet.com/ArticleAnalysis/LIGNET-Exclusive-Popes-Peace-Push-May-Scuttle-Syri#ixzz2ecwSuHUn
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11 September 2013

Former UK Military Chief Opposes Syria Strike

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Guthrie-2In an exclusive interview with LIGNET, a former head of Britain’s armed forces has voiced his strong opposition to a military strike on Syria, saying a war on the country would be a “mistake” as its consequences would be “particularly uncertain” and could make the situation “much, much worse.”

Field Marshall Charles Guthrie, Baron Guthrie of Craigiebank, also believes hostilities favoured by the Obama administration in reaction to an alleged chemical weapons attack last month would not fulfil the criteria of a just war.

Charles Guthrie served as head of Britain’s armed forces from 1997-2001 under Prime Minister Tony Blair. From 2000 until 2009 he was head of the SAS, Britain’s special forces. He commanded the British Army from 1994 to 1997 and advised the British government during the Bosnian and Kosovo wars.

Speaking to LIGNET Sept. 6th, Guthrie said: “I do not think we should carry out a military strike or anything like that – that’s mainly where I’m coming from.”

He said it would be “a mistake to go to war” because there are “a lot of reasons not to do it.”

“What effect will it have on the region? What effect will it actually have on the people on the ground?,” he asked. “And what we have to remember is that, quite honestly, every war has unforeseen consequences.”

He said this conflict is “particularly uncertain” because “we’re not quite sure of what the opposition is really like,” and he was wary of any military action in the Middle East in general. “There are other countries who are very fragile at the moment – I’m thinking of Lebanon and Jordan – so it could spread quite easily.”

Asked what he thought might be the most likely consequences would be, he said: “It’s difficult to say, but are we seriously going to say that if the bombs don’t work, we’re going to bomb and bomb and bomb, day after day, week after week? Is that a good policy?”

Over the course of his career, Lord Guthrie served in Malaysia, the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, East and West Africa and Northern Ireland. Last year, Queen Elizabeth II raised him to the rank of Field Marshal.

An expert in the ethics of war, in 2007 Guthrie co-authored with Sir Michael Quinlan, a former top official in Britain’s Ministry of Defense, a best-selling book called “Just War – The Just War Tradition: Ethics in Modern Warfare.”

He is particularly concerned that this operation would fail to measure up to the criteria for a just war. Without UN Security Council backing (never likely in this case), he said it would lack legitimate authority. He was also not fully convinced such a war would be a sufficient and proportionate response.

“I think probably there’s a just cause, but it’s awfully difficult to tell,” Guthrie said. “You can never tell whether a war will go smoothly and easily. And when you’ve embarked on a war, there are unforeseen consequences and you’re never quite sure when it’s going to end.” He is also convinced that bombing a country “makes people war resolute.”

Moreover, he’s wary that bombs can hit the wrong targets. “They can hit civilians, there can be collateral damage, and what seems a frightfully good idea can be used against you,” he said.

Some just war theorists argue that punishment is a legitimate criteria, but Guthrie doesn’t share this view. “You’ve got to make the situation better and you could be making it much, much worse,” he said. The Field Marshal is also sceptical that a bombing campaign will be effective as a deterrence against further chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It could work, he said, “but at what price?”

He stressed it’s important to say that chemical weapons are a “horrible thing” and that people are “very emotional about it.”

“People recall even now, a long, long time after the First World War, that chemical warfare has been used recently by Iraq on the Kurds and on the Iranians,” he said. “But though it’s a particularly nasty and revolting way to kill people, there are a lot of other ways to kill people, too.”

A Catholic, Lord Guthrie is supportive of calls from Pope Francis and others for talks and a political settlement. “That’s absolutely right, but the difficult is getting people to want to talk,” he said. “The best way is for people to get round a table and hammer it out. It’s all very well for the Holy See to say that, but you’ve got to have two sides who earnestly want to have a solution, and whether you’ve got that I don’t know,” he said.

“Eventually they will come to the table I suspect, but they’re not ready to come yet and the Russians aren’t being particularly helpful.” Russia and Iran have been accused of arming President Bashar al-Assad. Other nations such as Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have been bankrolling Islamist rebel forces fighting the Assad regime, making this conflict “very, very complicated” and “completely different to Iraq,” he said.

“We need to say a lot of prayers,” Guthrie said.

Guthrie’s opposition to a military strike is similar to other very senior military figures such as Lord Dannatt, another former head of the British Army, who recently said he did not currently support military action in Syria “in any shape or form”.

This article appeared in LIGNET, 9 September 2013

Pope Francis Outlines Syria Peace Plan

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9541875912_66aa7100d5VATICAN CITY — In the latest move showing Pope Francis’ determination to  prevent further bloodshed in Syria, the Holy Father has sent a letter to leaders  of the G20 group of nations who are meeting in Russia, urging them “to lay aside  the futile pursuit” of a military solution to the conflict and instead renew  their commitment to dialogue and negotiation.

News of the Pope’s appeal came as the Vatican briefed the diplomatic corps  accredited to the Holy See Sept. 5, during which the Holy See issued a rare and  detailed six-point program for peace as an alternative to the use of  violence.

In his Sept.  4 letter, addressed to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is chairing  this year’s G20 meeting in St. Petersburg that opened yesterday, the Pope  said it is “regrettable that, from the very beginning of the conflict in Syria,  one-sided interests have prevailed and in fact hindered the search for a  solution that would have avoided the senseless massacre now unfolding.”

He added that G20 leaders “cannot remain indifferent to the dramatic  situation of the beloved Syrian people, which has lasted far too long and even  risks bringing greater suffering to a region bitterly tested by strife and  needful of peace.”

“To the leaders present, to each and every one, I make a heartfelt appeal  for them to help find ways to overcome the conflicting positions and to lay  aside the futile pursuit of a military solution,” the Holy Father said. “Rather,  let there be a renewed commitment to seek, with courage and determination, a  peaceful solution through dialogue and negotiation of the parties, unanimously  supported by the international community.”

The Holy Father also said the leaders have a “moral duty to do everything  possible to ensure humanitarian assistance” reaches all those affected by the  conflict, also beyond Syria’s borders.

 

Principles for Peace

Earlier, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, the Vatican’s foreign minister, held  a special briefing at the Vatican for all ambassadors accredited to the Holy See  to inform them of the “significance of Pope Francis’ initiative” to hold a  special day of fasting and prayer on Sept. 7.

But many of the diplomats were surprised to also be handed a three-page “non  paper”, or aide-memoire, detailing the Holy See’s concerns for Syria and a list  of six points which it considers “important for preparing a possible [peace]  plan for the future of Syria.”

The document, entitled “Regarding the Situation in Syria,” focuses on  “following general principles,” which include re-launching dialogue and  reconciliation, avoiding division of the country into different zones and  maintaining its territorial integrity.

The Holy See asks that there be a “place for everyone” in a new Syria, in  particular for minorities such as Christians. It says Alawites (President Bashar  al-Assad’s ruling sect) must also have guarantees or they may emigrate or risk  their own lives by remaining in the country.

“Such a risk would make it more difficult to reach a compromise with them,”  the Holy See says, and it argues that all minorities must be involved in  preparing any new constitution and laws.

The document proposes the establishment of a ministry dedicated to  minorities, insists on the concept of citizenship with equal dignity and  emphasizes the importance of respecting human rights and religious freedom. It  also stresses the importance of asking “members of the opposition to distance  themselves from extremists groups, isolate them and reject terrorism openly and  clearly.”

The last of the six points underlines the importance of ensuring “all  necessary cooperation and assistance for the immense task of reconstruction in  the country.”

 

Papal Interventions

Elsewhere, the document recalls the “numerous and heartfelt” interventions  by the Pope on the crisis, as well as those by the Holy See.

“Absolute priority must be given to ending the violence,” the Holy See says,  adding that the “joint effort of the international community is essential.”

It stresses the importance of respecting humanitarian law and that one  “cannot remain passive” in the face of continuing violations of it. “The use of  chemical weapons must be stopped and condemned with particular determination,”  it says.

The document is particularly strong on humanitarian assistance, saying the  situation is “extremely grave” and that it’s foreseeable by the end of the year  that half of Syria’s population will need assistance. To allow aid to reach all  parts of the country, it calls for a ceasefire, even a partial one, and  guaranteed safety for aid workers.

Recalling that the Catholic Church is “at the forefront in providing  humanitarian aid,” the Holy See also appeals for “solidarity and cooperation” on  all part of all governments in the region and non-governmental  organizations.

The document ends by stressing the urgency of the cessation of violence,  avoiding a possible “sectarian degeneration” of the conflict. It reiterates the  need for dialogue and negotiation and underlines that the focus must be “on the  good of the people, not the seeking of positions of power or other unilateral  aims.”

A diplomat who attended the briefing said he and his colleagues were  “surprised at the detail of the program,” which they saw as an effort on the  Holy See’s part to restart the Geneva II negotiations.

Those talks, expected to take place in late 2013, are aimed at ending the  Syrian conflict and organizing a transition period and post-war reconstruction.  But Geneva II has so far stalled, as the United States has been unable to  persuade the opposition to take part.

“The briefing showed us that the Vatican means business; it’s not just  rhetoric or platitudes,” the diplomat said, and he noted the high level of  representation at the meeting in the Old Synod Hall.

“All ambassadors from the G20 were there; it was in effect a full house,  essentially a three-line whip,” he said.

 

Day of Prayer and Fasting    

In the meantime, many Church groups have mobilized to take part in tomorrow’s  day of prayer and fasting for peace in the Middle East. At the vigil in St.  Peter’s Square that evening, diplomats will be placed alongside Pope  Francis.

The Holy Father is expected to arrive at 6:30pm, and sources say it is  likely he will remain there in prayer for a “considerable part of the time.”

Edward  Pentin is the Register’s Rome correspondent and a contributor  to EWTN News Nightly.

Read more: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/pope-francis-outlines-syria-peace-plan#ixzz2ePXAyCZi

Fr. Samir on Syria and Egypt – Full Interview

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Fr. Samir Khalil Samir, a professor of philosophy, theology and Islamic studies based at St. Joseph University in Beirut, Lebanon, gave a long and very interesting interview to the Register August 27th. Alas I couldn’t include it all, so I reproduce the unedited version here:

Fr. SAMIR 3 oui

What are your main concerns about the current situation in Syria?

The situation is really very bad. We don’t see any solution, and there is none as far as I can see because both sides have decided to take this as far as they can. Why? For Assad, defeat could mean defeat not only for him or the regime, but for the Alawite community. Today the problem is not simply internal to Syria. The Syrian people began by reacting against dictatorship and calling for democracy and liberty. In the meantime, and quickly, elements came from outside, from all over the world, and these elements are essentially fundamentalist Sunnis. The problem became a confrontation between the Sunni on the one side and the Shia on the other, represented by Alawites.

So we have two groups: the army which is geared to fighting and is often brutal, and the other are many groups who have decided to fight in the name of Islam – Sunni Islam. It’s no more a question of democracy and liberty, so that’s the general situation of Syria as we see it.

What do we know about the bigger problem of ‘proxy’ powers?

Syria is at the centre of a larger strategy in the Middle East, involving Iran, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan a little bit, and the West. As the conflict has evolved, Iran has been supporting Assad, as has Hezbollah. This is one side. The Arab peninsula is supporting the opposition, as is Turkey, and other individuals from abroad. Israel is observing the situation but I suppose if Iran enters the conflict, Israel will react. If the West enters the conflict, then we have a conflict between Russia on one side, and the United States on the other. Europe is not unified, thank goodness.

What is your view of the chemical weapons attack? How certain can we be that it came from the Syrian army, as the United States government says?

It could be from both sides. Personally, I would never decide on such an important point without proof. We have seen what happened with Iraq 10 years ago. And those who will pay the price are not the West but the Syrians … The situation in Syria now is very bad, very evil, but how can we be sure that an intervention will result in something better? This is the question. It’s not a kind of game where we succeed or don’t succeed. It is a matter of life or death for tens of thousands of Syrian people.

It’s not clear what the goal is.

It’s not clear at all, and for me what makes the situation more unclear is that there are too many interested parties involved who are not unified. Some have a religious interest. For the Sunni, they view the Shia as Kuffār (plural of Kāfir = infidels), worse than Jews and Christians. We hear this from many Sunni leaders. You have small groups terrorizing others.

What is the solution?

The only solution is to say: OK, we have two Syrians positions: we have the government, with people supporting the government, and we have the opposition with people supporting the opposition.  The only people who can decide are the Syrians themselves, but cannot do so without the help of the world community. Now what is the aim? It’s to come to a common decision, respecting both positions – to find an honest compromise between the two. If one party wins, either Assad or the opposition, we will have war, or we will have a prolongation of the war.

So this is the most important point to make clear: there cannot be one winner, there must be a compromise with both sides placing on the table their criticisms and demands. You cannot put a precondition on it, that this or that group will not take part, or this person won’t take part. Then there must be a neutral arbiter as well, such as the United Nations. It’s not easy but I don’t see any other possibility.

Pope Francis has called on all parties to meet and dialogue. That is your view, too?

Certainly. There is no other way, and with no condition on who represents each other, each party must decide for themselves. One party cannot exclude Assad, for example, or anything like that.

Cardinal Bechara Rai, patriarch of the Maronites, recently said he believes there is a plan to destroy the Arab world for political and economic interests, and to achieve this, various groups are stirring up Sunni and Shia conflicts. What is your view on this?

Personally, I think the conflict between Shia and Sunni is something very bad and it’s not good for Islam. It’s not helping Christians either. We are one people in the Middle East. Whether I’m Jew, Christian, Muslim, secular or atheist, is a personal issue, it’s not a political one. We have to move towards a more secular society, not in the negative sense, but one that is open-minded to religion. As Pope Benedict said in his Apostolic Exhortation on the Synod on the Middle East (no. 30), when he spoke of a positive secularism, there must be a distinction, not a separation, between Church and State. Religion gives principles to the State, and at that level, Christians, Muslims and Jews can find a common ethic. But if we go deeper into the more ethical details, then we are divided. So there is nothing positive about the fact that Shia and Sunni are fighting. It is a primitive vision to think that this would be “good” for Christians. Again, we are one people.

How much is this violence to do with Islam itself, and that certain Muslims have always believed in the use of force?

There is something of this in Islam. Pope Benedict made the point, in his famous Regensburg lecture on 12 September 2006, when he was speaking generally, that any religion that uses violence to defend its position, or pretending to defend God, is wrong. We can never ever use violence for a good reason. Violence is bad in itself, so it cannot be used to convince people and so forth. Everyone would agree with that.

What the Pope didn’t say, but in fact what we find in the foundation of Islam, is that violence was used. This is a fact. If anyone denies this, they’re not a historian. We know that, thanks to Muslim sources and to the oldest source that has survived, the Kitāb al–Maghāzī  written by Al-Wāqidī (745-822) , which means the “The Book of Campaigns (or Battles)”. He is describing around 60 battles (ghazwah) led by Mohammad in the years 623-632 against other groups.

I explain this by saying it’s an historic situation, not a principle to be applied everywhere at every time. This is the point. What is happening today is that almost all extremist and fundamentalist groups are using this model – forever. Mohammed was able to unify a great many Arab tribes under the common name of Islam, which was a cultural, social, political and religious reality. This fact, this reality could be understood in two different ways: either, to be taken as a model to be applied forever; or to be taken as a practical situation valid for that time.

We have the same problem with the Jewish Bible, where culture, religion and politics are mixed, and were we read in Exodus how the Jews conquered the Holy Land against the people who were there, following the order of God. But it doesn’t mean that we have to take this as a model and apply it today. It is written in the mentality of that time and reflects their understanding of the prophet. As long as Muslims won’t read their holy Scriptures critically and historically, and as long they will believe it is to be forever applied literally in the world at all times, there will be a problem.

When I look at the history of any religion, I find things which were considered absolutely God’s will, which we consider today as not being so. We have to recognise that humanity – and this is one of the aims of religion – is growing, not only in number but in spirit. And to discover the meaning of a holy document takes time. But we have to do this.

For that reason, I say that at the moment violence is unfortunately widespread in all fundamentalist Islamic movements. Also fundamentalism has spread a great deal in the last 50 years in the Muslim world, but this fundamentalist interpretation is not the official Islam. We can see that in Egypt for instance. Al Azhar university [Islam’s foremost center of learning] which represents the majority of Muslims in Egypt and even perhaps in the world, was against the Muslim Brotherhood and former President Mohammed Morsi and they still are.

So you cannot say the Brotherhood represent the majority of Muslims – on the contrary. So I say fundamentalist Islam is certainly a part of Islam, as opposed to those who say: “This has nothing to do with Islam, Islam means tolerance” and so on. This is blah, blah, blah. This [violence] was always a part of Islam as it is understood. It’s not the whole Islam and the majority of Muslims obviously don’t support terrorism. But those who do support it are doing so not in their name, or in the name of politics, but in the name of God and Islam. They always have a mufti giving a fatwa, saying you must fight this group in the name of God, following the Koran.

You are a native Egyptian – what are your current concerns about your homeland?

I must say, as I’ve said elsewhere: what I hear from the West is absolutely wrong. When I hear “Finally, Morsi is the first democratically elected president” – this is a nonsense! If you take it juridically, he was elected democratically, but juridically so was Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak elected. Since the 1952’s revolution, we had an elected president. So to say this statement, that he’s the first democratically elected president, is one only a non-Egyptian can make.

Secondly, we know there are reasons to explain why Mohammad Morsi was elected: because the youth [the main drivers of the 2011 revolution] were not organised as a party, and because those associated with Mubarak and the old system, were excluded. So finally the only group who was organised politically and who had the right to be elected was the Muslim Brotherhood. But where is the democracy?

The democracy means, etymologically, the power (kratos) of the people (demos). When you see that 22 million adults sign a petition to remove Morsi, saying after a year he’s not worthy to be president – 22 million adults! – this is a number we never reached before. Then there were around 30 million people on the streets a week after. This is the voice of the people, this  is democracy.

The military, traditionally in the last decades, were always with the people, whether the government or the opposition. During the revolution of January 2011 and the weeks after, the army were supporting the opposition. So why didn’t we speak of a military coup? Because the coup was from the people and the military came and said, “OK, the people don’t want this government, and the Brotherhood refused.” So they said, “OK, we’ll nominate a provisional government,” and they nominated a magistrate, not a military, who was already nominated by Morsi himself! And when they asked all parties to take part in the government, the Brotherhood were the only party who refused, but the Salafists, who are more extreme than the Brotherhood, entered into this provisional government. Nobody said anything.

So this means it’s democratic, and it’s provisional. They didn’t make a joke, and say we create a constitution in one month and in one week people will vote for it [as the Muslim Brotherhood did]. I couldn’t read the constitution in one week – I tried. To write a constitution also takes years. To make a constitution in one month – now, that is a coup d’etat. And all we’ve seen, in the so-called democratic government [of the Muslim Brotherhood], is that they put their own people in all the important ministries of the state. They put their own governors into nine provinces before the end of the government, at once!

What they did was to worsen the economy. There was a shortage of food, they sold the petrol or gave it to Gaza. I was there in April and you’d see queues of one 1km of cars waiting 3, 5, or 8 hours to get provisions. They gave to Hamas and Gaza free access to 40 percent of the Sinai to train their mujāhidīn … and they killed a Coptic priest and some Christians, plus 27 soldiers. So it’s good that people threw them out. The people did their part, they expressed themselves, and the army protected the people and did their part.

What are your hopes going forward. Should the Brotherhood be banned?

Not banned, but we should simply say we need a new government. We will give time to all parties, without excluding anyone, and that means some months. We could apply some conditions, such as no terrorist could be accepted, and similar conditions.

And no to Sharia law?

Yes certainly! And then to give time to prepare a well-studied constitution. When they are approved and recognised, they need to decide on a reasonable time for the election and for it to be observed internationally. This is very important to avoid any criticism afterwards. We start with those who are elected by the people, and the parliament and so on, without excluding anyone, even the Muslim Brotherhood, on the condition that everyone signs and is obliged to follow the rule that violence is absolutely excluded.

Why is it, as Cardinal Rai said recently, that Christians must always pay the highest price in the Middle East? Why is this when they the most peaceful of all the people in the region?

First, it’s obviously easy to attack a minority. Second, it’s easier when the minority is peaceful and not armed. You could have a fighting minority, but it’s not the case with Christians.

But these are secondary reasons. The main reason is ideological. Who are fighting Christians, destroying churches and so on? Not my Muslim neighbour, but groups who are excluding the others. If you have Sunni excluding the Shia, they will obviously exclude Jews, Christians and so on. Any exclusivist group is a terrorist ‘in potentia’ – he becomes one when the occasion rises. We have seen this in Egypt for instance. Where were the biggest attacks? In two provinces: Minya and Assiut. These two are well known as centres of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood also did a lot of things there which were against the law, for example, taking a large plot of land in Assiut, which was an agrarian area, and building their Islamic university there. So anything illegal must be excluded.

But what we are asking as Christians – actually I don’t say as Christians, but as citizens – is not to put the word religion in the constitution. We should not put man or woman, rich or poor, or make any distinction. Just put “citizens”. As a citizen I can build a house of prayer, on condition that the same rules are applied to Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus etc.. This is the only acceptable solution – that we speak only of citizens, and do not distinguish between them. What we are asking is to apply honestly and totally the “Universal Charter of Human Rights”, including the liberty of conscience and the right to choose its religion and to change it, if you want.

So for these reasons I think Christians are attacked in Egypt spontaneously. In Syria, under the Assad regime, they were protected no more no less than Muslims, because the regime adopted the Baath Party ideology, which was considered secular. Religion was a positive thing, and seen, by the government, as helping citizens to do good and so on.

So I think this must be the goal, but on one condition: if we want to reach this point in ten years, then we have to start today. But if we say Egypt is not ready for that, and we don’t start making some steps, it’s a joke. We have to start making the necessary steps, like when you start on a construction. If you say it takes a lot of time but never start, you’re not serious. So we have to set rules and put them into practice at this point.

I am sure that Egypt and the Egyptians are willing to start a new stage in their political life. They are willing to have a more democratic government. They are willing to ban discrimination between men and women, Muslims and Christians, rich and poor, etc. This is the true revolution, and I am convinced this is the wish of the people. The army should help people to realize this “dream” until a new government is elected and finally organized. Insha’ Allah!

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