CT: What’s your sense of the mood among Coptic Christians in Egypt? Do they still have hope that the future can be different?
Bishop Angaelos: Since Friday the world is a very different place and the problem now is what’s coming. While a few days ago people would have been totally embroiled in Christian issues, I think now it’s a matter of what’s happening to the country and state security generally so I think people’s prayers will be very different.
But we are the indigenous people of Egypt and all we really want as Christians is to be able to be in Egypt and live faithfully and live freely. We don’t want special treatment. We don’t want special concessions. We just want equality and we want what’s best for Egypt, because what has been happening for the last few decades with the marginalisation and polarisation just isn’t healthy for anyone. So it’s a matter of trying to restore order and equality back into the country for everyone.
CT: The persecution of the church in Egypt came onto the international agenda in a way that it just hadn’t before. Do you think the political crisis is going to push it back off the agenda again?
Bishop Angaelos: We were completely surprised by the amount of media attention after January 1st. We don’t know what’s coming tomorrow but if we pray for Egypt, that there is wisdom and a sense of equality, then we would not have to pray for persecution and marginalisation because a solid, sound order will look after everybody.
CT: There are a number of legal requirements that hinder Christian freedom, such as the need for permits to build churches. Do you see the solution being government-led, with changes to the legal framework?
Bishop Angaelos: It has to be a combined effort. The church has its role, the government has its role and as long as we stick to our role faithfully everything will be fine. The government has a certain onus on it to provide a social structure that allows for people to grow and integrate positively. The church has a role to maintain people in their faith.
We don’t want to turn into a political party. As a bishop of the church I don’t want to be a political activist, I have other things to do. I would much rather lead my people in prayer. But, and we see it in Scripture, advocating for people is a responsibility and calling for justice is a responsibility.
CT: It seems it is not the majority of Muslims who are against Christians but rather a hard line section of the Muslim community that is attacking Christians. How should the church approach them?
Bishop Angaelos: There are two major components. The first is the minority radical element and [change] will have to come from their leadership and a sense of civil order where if you go and commit a certain crime you will be brought to justice, whereas in the past few decades so many crimes have been committed and no one is brought to justice. So there is a civil side of things.
But then you are speaking about the mass majority and I agree that not every Muslim wants to kill a Christian, but there is an increased polarisation and radicalisation that comes from the few and this is partly due to massive poverty and illiteracy and a social void in some areas and some people try to jump into that void and try to fill it.
CT: Do you think the UK government could help influence the situation in Egypt?
Bishop Angaelos: It’s very difficult now until we see where it’s going with the Egyptian government but the world community has its eyes on Egypt because the world community has its eye on injustice everywhere and the Egyptian government has spoken about injustice in other parts of the world so of course the world community will speak about the injustice that is happening there.
CT: You’ve just taken part in a day of prayer for Christians in Egypt. They must appreciate the prayers coming from others outside Egypt?
Bishop Angaelos: They appreciate the moral support and prayers and Christian solidarity. That’s why they are being persecuted, because they are faithful in their lives. So when they feel that other Christians are sharing in that it is appreciated. Keep praying for them but also for others. The police need lots of prayers and wisdom. Pray for all the people there.
Bishop Angaelos: Egypt's Christians don't want special treatment, just equality
Bishop Angaelos is General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Britain. He speaks to Christian Today here about what the political unrest signifies for the country’s Copts and the ongoing struggle to achieve equality.
Monday, 31 January 2011, 11:14 (EST)