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EGYPT: Coptic pope likes president's son

July 29, 2009 |  7:22 am

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Coptic Pope Shenouda III has stepped into Egyptian politics by suggesting that Gamal Mubarak -- son of President Hosni Mubarak -- would be the perfect candidate to succeed his father.  

Since Gamal Mubarak entered the Egyptian political scene by becoming a ranking member in the ruling National Democratic Party in 2002, many have accused President Mubarak of paving the way for his successor. The pope is convinced that regardless of Gamal Mubarak's relation to the current president, he remains an ideal candidate to lead the country after his father’s death.

"I wish and pray for God to prolong Hosni Mubarak’s life, but the presidency issue has got nothing to do with succession," the pope said in an interview with Egyptian satellite channel ON TV. "Most Egyptians love Gamal Mubarak and they will vote for him ahead of any other candidate running against him in elections – that is if they find anyone to run against him."

The pope refused to evaluate Gamal Mubarak in detail, stressing that he would do so when the right moment arises. It was unclear, however, why the pope decided to take sides in what is increasingly a political guessing game leading up to the 2011 presidential elections. Many Egyptians are unsettled by the prospect of succession, regarding it as a threat to the nation's democracy. Gamal Mubarak has no government or foreign-policy experience.

 Meanwhile, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church admitted that relations between Egypt's Muslims and Copts have deteriorated. "I have very good personal ties with Muslim figures like the head of the Azhar mosque Mohamed Tantawi," he said. "But that is an individual case. Generally, Muslims and Copts have many tensions between them."

"The problem is that neither the parliament nor the local councils interfere to solve those conflicts. That's why when one problem is resolved another takes place soon afterward, and for similar reasons."

The pope's comments come a few weeks after his return from the United States, where he was undergoing medical checkups as well as a thigh operation. The 85-year-old religious leader has frequently traveled to Ohio in the last year to be treated for kidney problems. He has been at the helm of the Orthodox Church since 1971.

-- Amro Hassan in Cairo

Photo: Pope Shenouda III. Credit: BBC

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