Pope Shenouda III of the Coptic Orthodox Church has died. Although in the years immediately following his 1971 ascension he was a politically active critic of the regime, a house arrest from 1981 until 1986 seems to have led him to become more conciliatory, and he became more a voice for Coptic rights within Egypt’s existing political universe, even discouraging Copts from participating in the 2011 anti-Mubarak protests. His death comes at a time when many Copts are becoming alienated from a hierarchy they see as out of touch, especially in terms of Egyptian politics, but also when all Egyptian Christians face a time of uncertainty as individuals and as a community, one which in many areas faces persecution.
Shenouda’s successor will come from the monastic ranks, which have expanded dramatically over the past generation as part of the general Egyptian religious revival. Here is the election procedure:
“Under the church’s bylaw issued in 1957, the next pope shall be elected by bishops, former and current Coptic cabinet members and MPs, Coptic notables, and Coptic newspaper owners and editors. Once the vote is completed, a blindfolded child will choose the pope from the three candidates with the highest number of votes. Candidates must be at least 40 years old and have spent at least 15 years in monastic life.”
The influence of laymen in Coptic politics dates back at least to the Middle Ages, when Christian government ministers under the sultans were often the community’s conduit to political influence. I wonder, however, if the role of former government officials in today’s Coptic Church could become a source of controversy, given that they will be tainted by connections with the Mubarak regime.
(Crossposted to my blog)