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EGYPT/ Bishop Naguib: the Catholic minority working for a civil state

What is the role of the Catholic Church in the transition to a new Egypt? Bishop Naguib discusses what the Catholics want and what they are doing to help create the new country.

(photo ANSA) (photo ANSA)

Catholics, who were among the actors in the political transformation of Egypt, are now going through a transition period. Patriarch Antonios Naguib explains this, underlining the light at the end of the dictatorial regime, based on lies and corruption and the adventure of a people that is elaborating on a new model of government, as far from Iranian theocracy as from Western secularism. He also comments on the contradictions of an elite that wants democracy, while the silent majority supports the extremists, with elections approaching. Naguib, the highest authority of Catholic Egyptians, about 250 thousand people of 88 million inhabitants of which 80 million are Muslims, spoke today at a panel at the Meeting in Rimini, and Ilsussidiario.net interviewed him as a preview.

The title of the panel you will participate is “Beauty, the space for dialogue”. What organizations in Egypt represent the beauty that is needed for dialogue?
The title is the same as the one for the Meeting in Cairo last October. This was a historical event because it was unimaginable that a meeting like that, born out of and sponsored by the Catholic Church, could have been organized at the University of Cairo, a public, Muslim institution. This theme was chosen because it unites everything and gives a positive perspective on life, history and mankind, and thus moves closer to God, helping us discover that even the future can be or can become beautiful.

In the course of this past year, what were the principal steps taken in the dialogue between Muslims and Christians?
An occasion was given to us by the nomination of Usama Elabd as the new president of the theological institute of Al-Azhar, which is the “Vatican” for Sunni Muslims. A Catholic delegation was sent to Elabd to present him with a new proposal for interreligious dialogue. The President of Al-Azhar guaranteed his complete support. Lately, we have been working together to reinforce the statement by the President of Al-Azhar, who called for the creation of a “civil state” last week. We call it that because neither Al-Azhar nor we Catholics like the term secular state, which is simply a negative definition and which contradicts God and the value of religion.

How can Egypt find its own way, different from the European one, to separate religion and politics?
The way provided by Europe and the US is very far from being the model for countries with a Muslim majority. In the West, in fact, the separation between religion and the government becomes what the Holy Father called “the dictatorship of freedom”. And thus, everyone is free in Europe except for the Christians who cannot publically express their faith. What kind of freedom is that? This is without mentioning the fact that this model of a secular state leads to the emanation of principles and laws contrary to natural morality and to all religious values, both Christian and Muslim. This is certainly not what we want for Egypt, and therefore I must say that we do not have a model to be inspired by. Not even the Turkish model, where for example, the government still refuses to recognize the entity of the Catholic Church and many other religious organizations in the name of the separation of church and state. This is so true that the number of Christians in Turkey has been reduced from 10/12% to less than 1%.