Egypt Christians rally behind rival of Islamists

Aya Batrawy, Associated Press, Cairo | Wed, 06/13/2012 10:48 AM

In the small southern Egyptian town of Azaziya, where almost all the residents are Christians, few doubt that nearly everyone who can is going to vote for Ahmed Shafiq, ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister and his longtime friend, in this weekend’s presidential election.

Shafiq’s candidacy has dismayed many Egyptians who believe the Mubarak-era veteran will preserve the old regime’s authoritarianism. But even if some Christians share those reservations, they view his opponent in the race as far worse: Mohammed Morsi, of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt’s Christian minority fears will turn the country into an Islamic state.

“Our goal is a civil state. We don’t see anyone else who can protect this except for him,” Montaser Qalbek, the son of Azaziya’s town leader, said of Shafiq.

In last month’s first round of the presidential election, which narrowed the field from 13 candidates to two, Shafiq received nearly all of the 4,500 votes cast in Azaziya, a town in the southern province of Assiut. Qalbek said he expects more than twice that number to turn out for the Saturday-Sunday run-off and that they will again overwhelmingly back Shafiq.

That determination is likely to be mirrored across the Christian community, which makes up 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 85 million. Many Christians see the vote as a clear-cut choice between a secular state and one in which an Islamist agenda slowly takes root. Leaders of the Orthodox Coptic Church, to which most Egyptian Christians belong, and Christian activists have been working hard to get the community to the polls, said Yousef Sidhom, editor of the weekly Watani newspaper and a Coptic Church official.