Egypt's Coptic Christian Pope criticizes new constitution

(Photo: Reuters / Mohamed Abd El Ghany)Pope Tawadros II, the newly-selected 118th pope of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Church, speaks at the Wadi Natrun Monastery complex, northwest of Cairo, November 5, 2012.

Egypt's Coptic Christian Pope has criticized the nation's constitution, saying parts of it were "distorted by a religious slant."

He saw a possibility for a change to more secular law with a new parliament and a new president during country's next elections.

Pope Tawadros II spoke about the issue on Tuesday as Egypt  grapples with protests over what the opposition sees as President Mohamed Mursi's attempts to monopolize power.

The Pope's comments are in line with general criticism of the new constitution which says the government is trying to impose a particularly conservative view of Islam on the population.

Before the new constitution was adopted in a referendum in December, churches protested by withdrawing representatives in the committee responsible for writing it.

"The only common bond between all Egyptians is that they are all citizens ... the constitution, the base for all laws, must be under the umbrella of citizenship and not a religious one," he told the Associated Press.

"Subsequently, some clauses were distorted by a religious slant and that in itself is discrimination because the constitution is supposed to unite and not divide."

He also looked ahead to the possibility for change.

"Maybe the constitution will change with the next parliamentary and presidential elections. Or maybe it will temporarily stay unchanged and be amended later," he said.

President Mursi has previously called for a "national dialogue" among the leading and opposition parties to resolve differences. Liberals and Christians have largely shunned the offer.

The Pope expressed a willingness to participate in a dialogue but expressed reservations.

"We must and will actively take part in any national dialogue in which we see a benefit for the nation," the Pope said. "But when we find that a dialogue ends before it starts and none of its results are implemented then we realize that it is not in the interest of the nation."

During his tenure, the Pope's predecessor, Pope Shenouda III, had received Muslim leaders at his cathedral after significant attacks on Christians as a demonstration of unity. Pope Tawadros II noted there was a limit to such gatherings.

"Realistically, we want actions not words. We don't want a show. Egypt has changed, we live in a new Egypt now."

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