A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Coptic Pope Says Something About Presidential Succession, Maybe

Coptic Pope Shenouda III, the head of the Coptic Church and one of three religious figures traditionally accorded the title of "Pope" (extra credit for the commenter who knows the third: Rome's a given [ANSWER BELOW*]), has given an interview to the Saudi-owned pan-Arab newspaper Al-Sharq al-Awsat. (English here.)The Pope takes some not particularly daring positions, such as noting that a Copt probably won't be elected President of Egypt anytime soon, and that while he gets on fine with the Shaykh al-Azhar there are some rough spots in Christian-Muslim relations, he also, in the original interview, seems to dismiss in passing the idea of a hereditary succession to the Egyptian Presidency. But the reportage of this in Egypt has picked up an additional comment worth noting. Here's an excerpt from Al-Masry al-Youm's English summation of the interview:
In other statements to ON TV channel, Pope Shenouda said that the presidency is not a position to be inherited. He also said, however, that there is no person en Egypt sufficiently qualified to run against Gamal Mubarak for presidency.
Now, I can't find another reference to the "ON-TV" interview. Certainly neither the Arabic interview in Al-Sharq al-Awsat or Al-Sharq al-Awsat's English version of the interview mention Gamal by name, though he does say the post should not be inherited.. Maybe the Pope did say something more to a television station on some other occasion. But it's interesting to note that it's been interpolated into a report of the Al-Sharq al-Awsat interview, where he said nothing of the kind.

Pope Shenouda has an interesting history and I must post more about it sometime. He was a real lightning rod during the rough summer of 1981 when Anwar Sadat deposed him and sent him into internal exile for some years. He's been a staunch supporter of Mubarak, and now in his 80s is unlikely to oppose Gamal, but I find it interesting that his negative remark about hereditary succession in the interview has been counterbalanced by finding a differing statement he made elsewhere. (And this in an independent, not a government, newspaper.)

*Update and Note on the trivia question: commenter Michal got it within about 90 minutes of the posting (See comments): it's the Chalcedonian (Greek Orthodox) Patriarch of Alexandria. Those two Patriarchs of Alexandria have been called Pope from antiquity, as has the Pope of Rome. (There's also a Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria, who's also Chalcedonian, but since he's in communion with Rome, he doesn't pretend to the title of Pope.) (And, to make things clearer, the "Patriarchs of Alexandria" reside in Cairo most of the time, just as the multiple "Patriarchs of Antioch" reside in Damascus, Beirut, or Bkirke, Lebanon. If you want to be more confused, check out this post from back in February.)


michal said...

there's something interesting about the strength of old Christian leaders in the Middle East - think of Msgr Sfeir (and his row with the more famous of two Nasrallahs) and now the Coptic Pope (who, btw, got lots of credit for sending an emissary to Marwa Sherbini's funeral)...
and btw, the third pope - is it the Chalcedonian one?

Michael Collins Dunn said...

Well, that didn't take long. Yep, the Chalcednian ("Greek Orthodox") Patriarch of Alexandria is also addressed as Pope.