Catholic leaders in Egypt have expressed alarm after Islamist groups achieved shocking success in the first round of parliamentary elections, gaining more than 65 percent of the vote.
The hardline Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party received 45 percent, but the big surprise was the Nour Party, backed by the even more extremist Salafist Islamists, which received 21 percent.
In the elections, held last week in nine of Egypt’s 27 provinces including Cairo and Alexandria, a coalition of secular parties received only 25 percent.
Citing these statistics in an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN), Father Antoine Rafic Greiche, official spokesman for the Catholic Church in Egypt, said, “We were expecting the Muslim Brothers to do well, but we did not expect at all the success of the Salafists.”
“Their success is a big surprise and a cause for alarm not just for Christians but for moderate Muslims who will be very annoyed by what has happened.”
Explaining the threat posed by Salafists and the Nour Party, Father Greiche said, “The Salafists speak about forbidding tourism, preventing women from wearing swimming costumes and forcing them to be totally covered up.”
“They look at Christians and even moderate Muslims as Kuffars [derogatory term for non-Muslims] and say they want to implement the Shari’a Islamic law rigorously.”
Pointing out that Salafists had taken responsibility for a number of attacks on churches this year, Father Greiche said, “The Salafists’ attitude to Christians is to say that they can get their passport to go to the USA, France, UK or somewhere else in the West.”
“They always talk about Egypt as a Muslim country, even though there are up to 13 million Christians living here.”
He said that the Muslim Brotherhood were also hardline but would be angered by the Salafists, who by comparison have very limited political experience.
Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut, Upper Egypt, said, “We are not afraid of the Salafists and the Muslim Brotherhood.”
“The success of the Salafists has surprised us, but we must wait and see what happens in the next two rounds of the elections.”
Meanwhile Coptic Catholic Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza said, “The Muslim Brothers know what they are doing. I am afraid what they, and the Salafists, might do if they got power.”
But both bishops and Father Greiche warned of pre-judging the situation, stressing that the elections were still in an early phase.
Father Greiche said that in Cairo and Alexandria, accusations of electoral malpractice had resulted in part of the vote being thrown out and reset for next month.
Bishop William said, “We have to wait and see what happens next. The secular and liberal parties are very young and they may develop as time goes on, collecting more support.”
Bishop Aziz said, “What we have seen over these past few days is only the first phase. It is too early to say what these results are going to mean.”
The next stages of the three-round elections will take place Wednesday, December 14th, and January 3rd, 2012, and will include provinces and towns and more conservative and rural districts.
A footnote regarding Aid to the Church In Need.
The international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (ACN) has been elevated by Benedict XVI to the status of a pontifical foundation.
The decision was enacted by a chirograph, an official document in Latin personally signed by the Pope.
The Holy Father named the prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, Cardinal Mauro Piacenza, the president of the foundation. He in turn nominated Baron Johannes Heereman von Zuydtwyck as executive president. The appointments took effect Dec. 1.
The official seat of the foundation is the Vatican but the international headquarters of ACN will remain in Königstein, near Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The organization also has 17 national offices in Europe, North and South America and Australia.
ACN is supported by over 600,000 friends and benefactors who finance approximately 5,000 aid projects every year in over 140 different countries. In 2010 the total amount of donations came to €85 million ($114 million).