Egypt's Christian leader slams "unfair" new cabinet

CAIRO Sat Aug 4, 2012 11:45am EDT

The Muslim Brotherhood's President-elect Mohamed Mursi (L) meets with Egyptian Coptic Bishop Bakhomious at his office in the Presidency, in Cairo June 26, 2012. REUTERS/Middle East News Agency (MENA)/Handout

The Muslim Brotherhood's President-elect Mohamed Mursi (L) meets with Egyptian Coptic Bishop Bakhomious at his office in the Presidency, in Cairo June 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Middle East News Agency (MENA)/Handout

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CAIRO (Reuters) - Egypt's new government fails to fairly represent Christians, the acting head of the Coptic church said on Saturday, saying one cabinet seat was not enough to reflect a community that accounts for a tenth of the Muslim country's population.

Islamist President Mohamed Mursi appointed his first cabinet on Thursday that drew heavily on career bureaucrats and included three Islamist politicians, one of whom was given the politically sensitive post of education minister.

Christians who joined Muslims in the 18-day revolt that toppled long-time ruler Hosni Mubarak last year had wanted a more inclusive government to balance the growing influence of Mursi's Muslim Brotherhood.

Prime Minister Hisham Kandil's cabinet appointed two women to his team but disappointed women's groups. Salafi Muslims who performed strongly in parliamentary elections were not included in the lineup at all.

Bishop Bakhomious, who replaced Pope Shenouda following his death in March after four decades as head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, told Egypt's Al-Shorouk newspaper he had expected Christians to be better represented.

"I will not congratulate the new prime minister on the formation of the government because it is unfair... this ministerial formation came unjust to Copts," he told the paper.

"We had expected an increase in the representation of Copts especially after the number of ministries increased to 35 ministry. But the formation ignored all the known rights and concepts of citizenship," he said in the first official comment by the Church on the new cabinet.

"It is not right that Copts get treated in this way," added Bakhomious, who is acting as pope until a successor to Shenouda is elected later this year.

In that role, he is the main political advocate for Egypt's Copts, the largest Christian minority in the Middle East.

DISCRIMINATION

Egypt's Christians and Muslims co-existed peacefully for decades but occasional sectarian clashes have taken a more violent turn following Mubarak's ouster and the rise of Islamists to power.

Christians are worried by an upsurge in attacks on churches which they blame on hardline Islamists, although political analysts say local disputes often lay behind them.

In one such incident last week, a passerby was killed during a fight between a Muslim and a Christian in a village, south of Cairo. Angry Muslims then robbed Christians in the village and torched their homes, prompting some Christian families to flee.

Mursi promised a prompt investigation of the violence and compensation for those who lost possessions.

The tensions between the two communities have been underscored by the appointment of an Islamist to run the education ministry.

Christians complain school books discriminate against them and as they include versus from Koran that both Muslim and Christian students are required to study, but make no reference to the Bible.

"The time has come for Egypt's new leadership to end the problems of Christians in Egypt or else the sectarian violence will increase," said human rights activist Gamal Eid.

(Editing by Jon Boyle)

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