Religious freedom for Christians in Egypt (Copts) and other religious minorities hangs in the balance as Egyptian voters prepare to select a new president starting May 23. This is the first open presidential election in a generation. If voters favor a hardline Islamist as president, existing religious freedoms are at greater risk. At least one moderate candidate favors less state involvement in religion.
Right now, the two major contenders for the presidency are Amr Moussa, belonging to the old guard around former president Hosni Mubarak, and Abdel-Moneim Abol Fotoh, an Islamist with roots in the Muslim Brotherhood. Until mid-2011, Moussa was Secretary-General of the Arab League and is widely recognized as an establishment figure. His hardline criticism of Israel has proven to be popular in Egypt.
Abol Fotoh, a political moderate, quit the Muslim Brotherhood in 2011 after decades of involvement in order to run for president. In the late 1990s, he spent five years in prison for his political activism.
In the past week, popular resentment in Egypt exploded when the Election Commission disqualified 10 candidates, including three well-known and controversial figures: Khairat al-Shater (Freedom Justice Party, Muslim Brotherhood); Omar Suleiman (former vice president and spy chief under Mubarak); and Hazem Abu-Ismail (an ultra-conservative Salafist). This week, Shater alleged that the commission's move was an attempt the rig the election.
During the Egyptian parliamentary elections, 75 percent of voters voted for an Islamist party, indicating enormous popular support for religiously conservative candidates. Since Moussa may have the backing of Egypt's military but is certainly no Islamist, it is quite possible that Egypt's next president ...