Interview with Fr. Rafic Greiche, head of the Catholic Church Press Office in Egypt, Maria Laura Conte and Meriem Senous

Last update: 2022-04-22 09:24:44

After four days of protests and violence in the square, it seems that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has paid attention to the protesters’ demands. How do you see the present situation? 

Field Marshal Tantawi has announced the change of government, which was one of the demands made by the Piazza Tahrir protesters, but we still do not know the name of the next prime minister. However, it is expected that the next government will have greater power to really act with respect to the previous one which was ineffective and seemed to be playing for time.

But the protesters are still in the square – has the announcement not been sufficient to appease their anger?

No, they continue to demand the formation of a new government and an end to the violence. At the moment there are clashes near the Ministry of the Interior, not far from Piazza Tahrir. Some people go there driven by the desire for revenge for what happened last Saturday and Sunday, for the bloodshed and violence endured.

Who is in the square today?

Above all young Egyptians. The square is full of the young people of the ‘25th January’, who have neither political labels nor belong to political or religious parties. Some representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood tried to enter the square yesterday but were driven away. A Salafite candidate to the presidential elections also tried to get into the square yesterday morning but was removed. 
Nonetheless, the protesters are increasingly divided: those already involved in politics maintain that the nomination of a new government may be postponed until June. Others are asking for the army to go in order to leave room for a new government of civilians immediately. The problem is that if the army actually withdrew, there would be a dangerous power gap and no real authority in the country.

Are people perhaps regretting the past regime?

For the moment nothing has changed since Mubarak’s time, or the situation has even worsened: there is tension between Christians and Muslims, more clashes, more burning of churches (it suffices to remember the events in Maspero), the young activists are arrested and taken before military courts, the media is controlled by censorship. We are going backwards. The democratic situation is worse than what it was under Mubarak. The young are asking for a democratic transitional government to be established.

Could these new uprisings cause a delay in the election date?

Until now nobody, not even the Supreme Council, had questioned the electoral deadline. But it was only the other evening that a number of politicians suggested that the first part of the voting – which should concern Cairo, where all the unrest is in Paizza Tahrir – be postponed until the situation has calmed down. Nothing however has yet been decided in this direction.

What was it that triggered the revolt this time?

There was a big protest in Piazza Tahrir last Friday, during which most of the protesters was made up of groups of Islamists. There were no incidents or soldiers. Instead, on Saturday morning several people arrived who had been wounded during the revolution last January and February and who have neither the money nor the medicines for treatment. There were about two hundred people, sitting in the garden near the square. The police intervened against them at about midday, with the intention of driving them away from the garden. A violent repression followed, which triggered the anger of these protesters and other young people who had joined them, with the hurling of stones and shouting. 
It must also be pointed out that Piazza Tahrir is only a few metres away from the Ministry of the Interior. The young protesters wanted to go inside and alarmed the soldiers on guard who, in order to defend the ministry building, used tear gas and every means possible to drive the protesters away.

What is the position of the Christians in this new scene?

They are in the square along with the Muslims. Moreover, among the many Christians, there is the group that has proclaimed itself the ‘Maspero group’, in memory of the victims of the army’s armoured tanks on 9th November. The young Christians give a hand when they can, helping with medicines, food, drink and medical aid distribution if necessary.

And how does the Muslim Brotherhood see these new protests? 

At first they kept away from Piazza Tahrir and now they are beginning to want to show their presence, but they are refused entrance by the square itself. This is an extremely positive aspect. The young know that these Islamic representatives are above all interested in their own advantages more than in any other aspect.

According to you, will these young protesters still obtain anything by occupying the square?

They obtained the government’s resignation, which the Supreme Council of the army accepted, and I think that in the end they will set in motion more decisive and rapid choices by whoever is in office. We have seen a first result: the other night the Supreme Council approved the veto for Mubarak’s followers to take part in the coming elections, and this is an important step for the square. It was the first thing to do, but those governing proceed slowly and this makes people more aggressive and violent. 
What is the stance of the Coptic Church with regard to these new uprisings?

The Coptic Church has not made any official declarations on the present situation, but it encourages the young to go and protest in the square, to be there.

Which is the state model to which you aspire? What type would you like to see applied in Egypt?

For us Christians and many Muslims the reference model is the French one, that is a presidential republic with a president and a prime minister with different duties and responsibilities, without conflict. We do not want either a presidential regime like in Mubarak’s time, or a purely parliamentary system like the one in Italy, but a combination of the two with some adjustments to the local reality.

And among the countries with a Muslim majority? Are there none that Egypt might to some extent take into consideration?

In the Arab world there are no models is to be followed. Perhaps the Turkish one is not bad. The Arab States are all dictatorships.