Many Egypt Christians vote 'no', fearing Islamists

Sun Mar 20, 2011 8:35am GMT

By Sarah Mikhail

CAIRO (Reuters) - Many Egyptian Christians say they voted on Saturday to reject proposed constitutional amendments in a referendum because they fear hasty elections to follow may open the door for Islamist groups to rise to power.

If the amendments are approved, parliamentary elections will take place in late September followed by presidential elections in December, giving scant time for new parties to organise, including ones representing the aspirations of Christians.

Foremost among these aspirations is the creation of a civil state where religion is not a basis for legislation.

It is widely assumed that quick elections would give an advantage to the well-established Muslim Brotherhood, a group founded in the 1920s which has emerged as the best organised political force since Hosni Mubarak was toppled from power.

"I fear the Islamists because they speak in civil slogans that have a religious context, like when one said he believed in a civil Egypt but at the same time no woman or Copt should run for president," said Samuel Wahba, a Coptic doctor.

The Islamist group has always sought to reassure Copts, who make up about 10 percent of 80 million citizens, saying they have the same rights as other Egyptians. But they have also historically opposed the idea of a Copt assuming the presidency.

Coptic Christians also want the new constitution to do away with Article 2, which says Islam is the religion of the state and Islamic jurisprudence the main source of legislation -- a point of tension with Islamists.

"I voted 'no', because I don't want to return to the old constitution or a patchwork of the old constitution and a tyrannical president after such a great revolution," Wahba said.   Continued...

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