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Egypt’s Political and Economic Future

Caption: A young Egyptian is raised by his father to shake hands with an army officer atop a tank in Tahrir Square in Cairo on February 11. Egypt’s Vice President Omar Suleiman said President Hosni Mubarak had bowed to pressure from demonstrators in the streets and resigned, handing power to the army. (Photo: CNS/Yannis Behrakis, Reuters) 

14 Feb 2011 – by Patricia Zapor

WASHINGTON (CNS) — After the 18-day “revolution” of public protests that toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak Feb. 11, the path ahead for the nation is a blank slate, with a wide range of political and economic paths possible, according to an expert on Egypt at the University of Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies.

As news was still getting out about Mubarak’s resignation, Patrick Mason, research associate professor at the institute and its “Contending Modernitie” program, told Catholic News Service he thinks that Egypt’s way forward will be a form of civic nationalism that transcends ethnic, religious or other cultural identities.

The tone set during the weeks of protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo and in other locales was one of cross-differences collaboration, where the unifying point among the tens of thousands of activists was that of being Egyptian, not whether one was Muslim, Christian, Arab or some other type of identification, Mason observed.

That is a hopeful sign for the country’s beleaguered Coptic Christian minority, said Mason. Scenes from the protests of Christians forming a human shield between praying Muslims in the square and outsiders who might have tried to interfere, and of Muslims creating a protective ring around churches where Christians were praying inspired confidence that treatment of religious minorities can improve under a new government, he said.

At 10 percent of the population, Christians in Egypt have long faced discrimination and harassment.

A bomb attack on a Coptic Orthodox church in Alexandria Jan. 31 left 23 dead and 97 injured. Mason noted that Muslim leaders were quick to decry the incident and made a conspicuous effort of protecting the church and its people at Christmas celebrations Jan.7.

Religious leaders did not play a significant role in the protest campaign, according to Mason, and he said he wouldn’t expect them to be deeply involved in shaping a new government. Sheik Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt, issued a statement supporting the protesters, but Mason said he otherwise apparently didn’t participate in the events.

A Coptic Christian leader urged the protesters to go home, he said.

“They have been tentative and cautious,” Mason said, “not at the forefront of the protests.”

The young people of Egypt feel allegiance to their religious leaders as part of their faith and society, he said, but that doesn’t extend to believing they should have political power.

Top religious leaders, particularly Muslims, have been closely associated with the institutions of the state, Mason said. Given those affiliations and the grass-roots nature of the protests, he said he’d expect religious leaders to be minor participants in reshaping the government.

Mason, who taught at American University in Cairo from 2007 to 2009, said he was personally very inspired by the news out of Egypt, but that such events were inconceivable when he was there.

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