12/07/2012, 00.00
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Egyptian Churches leave Christians free to choose in referendum

Egyptian Catholic Church spokesman Fr Rafic Greiche makes this point as he rejects Islamist media claims that religious leaders instigate hatred against President Morsi. He also notes that rumours about possible attacks against churches and Christian buildings are baseless. Islamic extremists are trying to turn a political issue into a clash between Christians and Muslims.

Cairo (AsiaNews) - "So far the Coptic Church and other Christian denominations, Catholic and Protestant, have not taken any position and will let their members vote 'yes,' 'no,' or boycott the constitutional referendum of 15 December," Fr Rafic Greiche, spokesman of the Egyptian Catholic Church, told AsiaNews, adding that the Coptic Church has not been involved in the demonstrations against President Mohamed Morsi.

Similarly, the clergyman has downplayed claims that attacks are being planned against the country's churches and Christians. "The risk of attacks against churches and religious buildings is nothing new," he explained. "In periods of tensions like the one we are experiencing now does raise alarm bells about possible attacks, but the rumours about bombs or acts of violence against Christians are unfounded."

What concerns Fr Greiche above all else are the accusations and false information spread by Muslim Brotherhood-controlled media blaming Christians for the demonstrations in front of the presidential palace. Six people died and hundreds were wounded in the incident. This could turn a political confrontation into a religious conflict.

"Many Christians did participate in the demonstrations, but none of them tried to lead them," the clergyman said. "Christian leaders did not try to encourage them to participate. They chose to take to the streets on their own." What is more, "Heliopolis, the neighbourhood where the presidential palace is located, has 15 churches and is home to many Christians and moderate Muslims."

Still, across the country, tensions remain high. President Morsi yesterday spoke to Egyptians after days of silence, saying he was ready to engage the opposition in dialogue, but he did not say that he would cancel the decrees that give him total power until the constitutional referendum.

Meanwhile in the capital, troops and tanks are still deployed around the presidential palace, a threat that demonstrations would be crushed.

Opposition leaders have accused Morsi's supporters of instigating the violence, attacking peaceful demonstrators who were out against "the Muslim Brotherhood dictatorship and the Islamist-drafted constitution."

Despite warnings from the military and threats from the Muslim Brotherhood, young pro-democracy activists were out today to organise demonstrations and marches in Egypt's main cities.

Nagui Damian, a young Copt who played a leading role in last year's Jasmine Revolution, said that "hundreds of thousands of people poured into the streets, representing the voice of more than 50 per cent of the people who are tired of the promises made by the president and the Islamists."

"We do not want Morsi to resign as Mubarak did," he said. "We respect the democratic vote held in June. Our wish is to see Egypt start on the path of democracy and that the constitution that will guide our future is drafted by all components of Egyptian society, not by some alone."

"We want the Muslim Brotherhood to respect the law and not use religion for political purposes." (S.C.)

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See also
Fighting rages on Cairo streets as new government sworn in
Egyptian army deploys tanks. Clashes between democrats and Islamists: 5 dead and 350 injured
Egypt: State of emergency revoked, curfew remains in some areas
Coptic Church attacked in Cairo, 8-year-old girl among the dead
With al-Sisi seemingly ready to run, Egypt's presidential elections set for April


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