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Egypt's new pope opposes religious constitution

Associated Press Modified: November 5, 2012 at 3:32 pm •  Published: November 5, 2012

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's new Coptic pope said Monday the constitution now being drafted will not be acceptable if it is overtly religious, a sign he would campaign with his Christian minority and secular groups against increasing Islam's role in the new charter.

In an interview aired Monday, a day after he was selected patriarch of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II said the uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak last year has opened the way for a larger Coptic public role.

He said as pope, he will encourage the Christian community to participate more in political and public life, as well as elections. He charged that the country's Christian minority has been "intentionally" marginalized for years.

"After tens of years of marginalization and fake democracy, this has made some Copts isolated," he said in the interview aired on the private TV station ONTV.

"This is changing bit by bit, and it will take time. It needs encouraging, and so long as society is fair, and democracy is built fairly, you will see participation."

Tawadros said Egypt's richness lies in its cultural mix between Muslims and Christians.

Tawadros appeared to addressing his wary community about the rising political power of Islamists. A series of violent attacks on churches and a crackdown on freedom of worship and expression have caused them to worry about their future.

The election of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi heightened fears among the Copts that their rights might be curtailed. The fears have been further fueled by the process of writing a new constitution, which is dominated by Islamist groups seeking to increase the role of Islam in legislation.

Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood has said the constitution must be based on Islamic Shariah law, though that statement is open to different interpretations.

Tawadros said the country's new constitution, being drafted by a panel led by Islamists, will not be acceptable if it is too religious. He said religious laws have no place in the constitution.

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