Coptic Church withdraws from Egyptian constitutional panel

The Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt has pulled out of a constitutional panel charged with drafting the country’s new constitution.

The Islamist-dominated panel was made up of 100 members selected by the parliament. The vast majority came from the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi fundamentalists.

The Coptic Church had two church officials sitting on the panel. The official MENA news agency reports that 20 members of the Coptic Church’s Holy Synod voted unanimously to withdraw the officials.

A Church statement quoted by MENA said: “The Coptic Orthodox Church General Council agreed with the approval of all of the council’s 20 members to withdraw from the constitutional assembly … as it found it was pointless for the church to be represented.”

Yousef Sidhom, editor of the weekly Watani newspaper and a Coptic Church official, told the Associated Press: “How can we withdraw from something we have not been a part of? We are calling on people to withdraw along with other groups that have pulled out.”

The Islamic institution, al-Azhar, and the representative of the Constitutional Court have also decided to withdraw from the constitutional panel in protest against the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The withdrawal follows an announcement from the Muslim Brotherhood over the weekend that it is putting forward Khairat el-Shater, a wealthy businessman, to run in the upcoming presidential elections.

Copts make up around 10% of Egypt’s population. There have been concerns since last year’s revolution that their freedom would be restricted under an Islamist-dominated government.