2012-01-11 Vatican RadioThough Pope Benedict did not actually name the country in his annual speech Monday to diplomats, Egypt would have come to the mind of many when the Pope highlighted North Africa and the Middle East where he said young people have “launched a vast movement calling for reforms and a more active share in political and social life.”
Egypt’s Ambassador to the Holy See, Lamia Aly Hamada Mekhemar, told Vatican Radio’s Tracey McClure that she was not surprised the Pope did not mention her country by name in his discourse, as Egypt, she noted, is just one of many countries participating in the Arab Spring.
In his address to diplomats from around the world, the Pope spoke of what he called “religiously motivated terrorism – especially in Asia and Africa.” When asked if repeated attacks on Christian, mainly Copt, communities in Egypt are a product of “religious terrorism,” Ambassador Mekhemar points the finger at the former regime of ousted President Hosni Mubarak as being responsible for the New Year's bombing of a Coptic Church in Alexandria in which dozens of people were killed at the start of 2011.
She explains that the former regime planted the seeds of mistrust between many Christians and Muslims in Egypt.
She describes the former regime as leaving the country with “the remnants of an old heritage, a very heavy one, that we are bound to carry until we cross this very difficult time and period of transition and go to a democratic – hopefully democratic – era.”
“The problem is the intrusion of political actors who really ignite for their own interests, these feelings of mistrust and inject misconceptions…”
Commenting on Pope Benedict’s reference to education as a source that can encourage religious tolerance and respect for the “other,” Ambassador Mekhemar says “of course, education is instrumental in the life of any people. I think we’ll see more of an open education system, but this will always depend on how much freedom we have in our system because it is with freedom, with freedom in general – with respect of all human rights – that religious freedom is brought about.”
Some Christians are considering leaving the country due to concerns about the rise of conservative Islam in a future Egypt.
“I don’t think we can even imagine an Egypt without its Christians,” says the Ambassador. “They are part of this population but not (just) an integral part – more than that. I don’t think we can imagine our Egypt without 10 million (Christian) Egyptians.”
“Egypt is Christians and Muslims. It has always been like that and it will remain like this. I understand the fears and concerns of the Christian community. Of course, when you have a conservative power, or a conservative group in power, of course, concerns are there and fears are there that some things might change in the way they are treated – the (way) .Christians are treated – in the country. But I really don’t believe so. I really think that all again will depend on our will to establish a democratic system because it is with democracy that people get over their differences, that minority rights are respected.”
“With the rise of Islamic parties in parliament, of course one can imagine that some changes will happen in the mode of life in Egypt – concerning either Muslims or Christians. Of course, maybe Christians are concerned more. But I don’t think the majority in the parliament will commit or enact any laws that would affect the rights of Christians in Egypt. This would be a very unwise step to take.”
“I think the revolution has been there in order to get over inequalities and end inequalities between people so I don’t think they will have any way to do that – even if they want. I don’t think Egyptians will allow them to do so.”
Listen to Tracey McClure’s entire interview with Ambassador Mekhemar who describes the Pope’s words to diplomats as “balanced” and “positive” :