Top Egyptian Muslim and Christian leaders support army-sponsored transition

Egypt’s leading Muslim and Christian clerics backed an army-sponsored roadmap on Wednesday which suspended the constitution and called for early presidential and parliamentary elections.

Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Cairo’s ancient seat of Muslim learning, and Pope Tawadros, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, both made brief statements following an announcement by the head of the armed forces that deposed the elected president, Mohamed Mursi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Tawadros said the plan offered a political vision and would ensure security for all Egyptians, about 10 percent of whom are Christian.

The two religious leaders flagged their support for change on Tuesday. Tawadros tweeted his blessing for a youth-led revolt and for army moves to end the political crisis. Reflecting deep anxiety among Egypt’s millions of Christians since last year’s election victories Mursi and the Brotherhood, the head of the Coptic Church said on Twitter:

“A salute, in tribute and glorification, to the trio that makes Egypt great: the people … the army … and youth.

“Long live my country, free and strong.

“How impressive are the Egyptian people, as they reclaim the revolution that was stolen from them, in a civilized and highly elegant manner with the idea of “tamarud” (revolt). I pray for all the people of Egypt.”

Christians – some 10 percent of Egypt’s 84 million people – have feared an expansion of Islamic laws under Mursi. Since the 2011 revolution that ousted secular, army-backed autocrat Hosni Mubarak, they have complained of attacks on churches. There have been fatal clashes between Copts and security forces.

Grand Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb of Al-Azhar also offered an endorsement, albeit less explicit, of the army’s move when he called on political leaders to heed anti-government protesters.

Long at odds with the Muslim Brotherhood, Tayeb urged political leaders to reconcile; they should listen to “the voice of the people” and “their elegant expression of their demands”. By highlighting risks to national security, Tayeb echoed sentiments expressed by the armed forces chief on Monday.

– reporting by Yasmine Saleh, Shadia Nasralla and Asma Alsharif