CAIRO (CNS) — Egyptian Christian representatives met with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Cairo, rejecting calls by other religious leaders to boycott discussions but stressing their determination to flex their newfound political voice.
Figures affiliated with the Catholic, Anglican and Coptic Orthodox churches attended the two-hour meeting at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo July 15.
“I don’t think it is a good idea to refuse a meeting. It is better to be in dialogue and have the opportunity to express our views,” said Father Rafic Grieche, spokesman for the Egyptian bishops’ conference. “All the churches were present in a different way, although there was, for instance, no bishop from the Coptic Orthodox Church.”
Clinton’s two-day visit to Egypt began July 14 with a landmark meeting with the country’s newly elected President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The once-banned Islamist organization has become Egypt’s major political force in the wake of the early 2011 uprising that topped President Hosni Mubarak, feeding fears among Christians and liberals that it will use its electoral mandate to push through socially conservative reforms.
Recent meetings between U.S. and Brotherhood officials have fed suspicions among the group’s opponents of a deal, whereby Washington will respect Morsi’s mandate in exchange for maintaining Mubarak-era agreements such as Egypt’s 1979 peace deal with Israel.
Some clergy from the Coptic Orthodox and Evangelical churches refused to meet Clinton, accusing the U.S. of interference in Egypt’s internal affairs.
Bishop Marcus of the Coptic Orthodox Church told the local news portal Ahram Online that their boycott of the meeting showed their ’rejection of U.S. intervention in Egypt’s domestic affairs and the Americans’ strategy of favoring certain Egyptian political currents over others.”
A number of Christian public figures signed a statement making similar accusations.
However, Christian leaders who attended the discussion with Clinton said that despite their issues with U.S. policy, establishing dialogue was better than not. Among the attendees were Youssef Sidhom, editor of Watani, a Christian weekly newspaper, and member of the Coptic Orthodox Church’s lay council; and Anglican Bishop Mouneer Hanna Anis of the Diocese of Egypt.
Discussions focused on popular fears of political Islamism and the determination of Egypt’s Christians to face the issue on their own terms.
“We told (Clinton) that Christians do not want to leave their country, and that we do not want special help from the U.S.,” Father Rafic told Catholic News Service. “Christians proved in the presidential and parliamentary elections that they are a political force that can change the political outcome.
“We said this showed that we don’t need the support of a dictator (like Mubarak). We can participate in politics and do things for ourselves,” he said.
Christians make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s estimated population of 84 million.