Egypt — June 2007

Sociopolitical Situation

With the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981, and consequently the long-term regime of President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, Egyptian society has experienced varying degrees of authoritarian government. Nevertheless, Egypt — after Israel — receives more assistance from the United States ($50 billion in assistance since 1979) than any other country. Despite abuses, the United States continues to support the Mubarak government, which is driven by fear of the Islamicists. The Muslim Brotherhood, after the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) is the most important political group in the country, though it has been banned.

Calls from the international community, local nongovernmental organizations, political parties and others for genuine democratic choice triggered the NDP to repackage the 2005 presidential elections. This created hopes that meaningful political reform was imminent. The public referendum that took place in early 2007, over proposed constitutional and political amendments, witnessed practices and violations that negatively affected the will of the voters, leading to general indifference. Only some 3 percent of Egypt’s registered voters finally participated in the balloting.

Egypt has been grounded by so-called Emergency Laws, which allow for indefinite detention of suspects and deny the right of appeal in certain cases. Demonstrators, activists and journalists have criticized the regime too vocally. As a result, dozens of pro-democracy activists, Islamicists and regime opponents have been arrested and imprisoned. Frequent reports of torture and intimidation of pro-democracy activists have been emanating from Egypt’s overcrowded jails.

On the economic level, although the government has focused on privatization and modernization of industry and services, the state involvement in the economy is still strong. Egypt’s subsidy bill is higher than ever, suggesting that the benefit of economic growth is not reaching the majority of the population. Subsidies on food and fuel at 9.6 percent of GDP are outstripping spending on health and education.

The rural-urban divide and growing population worries threaten progress against poverty. Income remains low (43 percent live under $2 per day) and unemployment threatens not just economic, but social stability, too, with 1.2 million young job seekers entering the market each year.

Religious Situation

Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church met with Patriarch Ignatius Zakka I of the Syriac Orthodox Church and Catholicos Aram I of the Armenian Apostolic Church at St. Ephrem Monastery in Syria from 19-21 April 2007. During this meeting, they addressed issues regarding the official theological dialogues.

The heads of these churches called their faithful to work constantly for peace with justice. They also expressed their full support to the Christian-Muslim dialogue as integral to the history and cultures of the Middle East.

Also the Coptic Orthodox Church, represented by Metropolitan Bishoi of Dimyat and Father Shenouda Ishak of West Henriette, N.Y., and the Catholic Coptic Church, represented by Amba Kyrillos of Assiout, attended the fourth meeting of the international joint committee for the Theological Dialogue between the Catholic Church and the Oriental Orthodox churches. The meeting took place at the new office of the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity in Rome from 28 January to 3 February 2007.

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