Wednesday’s papers: Pope Shenouda’s funeral and fears for constituent assembly

The massive funeral for Coptic Orthodox Pope Shenouda III is featured on the front pages of all Egyptian newspapers, and is covered in great depth within the pages of each of these dailies. All papers pay tribute to the deceased patriarch, who presided over the religious affairs of Egypt’s Coptic Christian community since 1971.

Other main news items featured in Wednesday’s papers include parliamentary plans to establish an officially sponsored Islamic charity fund to assist the needy, along with heightened political struggles to establish a constituent assembly.

“Egypt bids farewell to its departed soul in a majestic procession,” reads the top headline of Al-Shorouk newspaper. “Egypt pays respects to its symbol of national unity” reads the headline of Al-Dostour, while Al-Tahrir newspaper runs a large photo of Shenouda in his golden crown and papal robe resting in his casket with a Bible by his side. “Goodbye to our father,” reads the headline.

“Funeral of the century … Egyptians bid farewell to the pope in a million-person funeral procession,” reads the chief headline in Al-Akhbar. The state-owned paper is quick to point out in its sub-headlines that the ruling military council played an instrumental role in protecting the funerary rites and procession — “Military police responsible for securing the funeral,” it writes.

Al-Akhbar explains that the armed forces provided air transport for the funeral from the papal cathedral in Abbasseya, Cairo to the burial site in Wadi al-Natrun, some 100 kilometers northwest of the capital. High-ranking bishops, clergy and family mourners were reportedly transported to attend the burial by helicopter. The independent Al-Shorouk clarifies that the pope’s body was transported from the cathedral to Almaza Military Airport in Cairo, where he was flown to Wadi al-Natrun. The flight took just 25 minutes, yet the helicopters were delayed for nearly three hours.

Al-Shorouk, like all other daily papers, mentions Shenouda’s long history, accomplishments and legacy. The papers all mention the attendance of statesmen, generals, diplomats, clerics, ambassadors, celebrities and foreign dignitaries at the funeral — along with the shoving throngs of hundreds of thousands of mournerswho had come to pay their respects to the dead pope. Three died and more than 140 others were injured in stampedes of mourners and crowds trying to get a glimpse of the pope at the cathedral since Saturday.

The papers all praise Shenouda, Egypt’s 117th pope, depicting him as a protector, negotiator, shepherd and pious man of God. Not a single paper mentions Shenouda’s close ties with ousted dictator Hosni Mubarak. The pope’s open endorsements of the former regime have been forgotten — as if swept under history’s carpet.

Praises for the pope are sung even in the pages of the Muslim Brotherhood’s mouthpiece, Freedom and Justice. The top headline in this paper reads “The [Brotherhood’ supreme] guide and president of Freedom and Justice Party offer condolences for pope today.” In the pages of this paper, Mohamed Abdel Qoddous — a Brotherhood member and board member of the Journalists Syndicate — write a short column entitled “Positive characteristics of Pope Shenouda.”

Abdel Qoddous mentions that the patriarch sought harmony between Muslims and Christians, and that he placed a travel ban on Coptic pilgrimages to Jerusalem, Bethlehem and the Holy Land while they remain under Zionist occupation. Last but not least, the pope approved of keeping Article 2 of the Egyptian Constitution, which establishes Sharia law as the primary reference of legislation, intact.

In other news, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party came under fierce criticism for their perceived attempts to safeguard a significant majority for its members within the constituent assembly. Al-Dostour quotes Egyptian specialists of constitutional jurisprudence: “Neither Parliament nor the Brotherhood has right to appoint constituent assembly.”

In Al-Akhbar, Judge Tahani al-Gebali writes, “New constitution is threatened with illegitimacy and annulment due to faulty formulation of constituent assembly.”

Quoting specialist Mohamed Farahat, Al-Dostour’s top headlines mention that neither the Brotherhood nor the Salafis have any experience in drafting constitutional law. Another headline indicates that the Brotherhood was both unwilling and incapable of leading a revolution since its inception in 1928, and that it is reaping the fruits of the revolution and the constitution sown by the revolutionary populace. “The Brotherhood joined the revolution in full force only after being assured [by military sources] that the regime would fall … Salafis didn’t partake in revolution.”

Elsewhere in the news, the Salafi Nour Party is seeking to establish an Islamic charity fund to assist Egypt’s needy. “Salafis insist that Egypt will return to the Islamic Caliphate” and “People’s Assembly establishes committee to draft ‘Household Fund’ law,” read headlines in Al-Dostour. Instead of poverty eradication plans, Islamist MPs led by the Nour Party initiative are seeking to establish a law and apparatus through which to channel Zakat — or almsgivings — from the Egyptian populace.

Al-Shorouk’s headline for its coverage of this charity initiative reads: “Draft law to establish independent committee collecting and distributing almsgiving funds.” A subhead reads, “Suggestions to cancel taxation and use this Islamic fund to confront poverty.” Al-Tahrir newspaper indicates that Salafi MPs do in fact perceive this fund and charity work as being a step toward “reviving the Islamic Caliphate.” Nour Party MPs are quoted as saying this Zakat fund would be an independent Islamic project, adding that it would not replace the Egyptian Tax Authority.

Egypt’s papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Youm7: Daily, privately owned

Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned

Freedom and Justice: Daily, published by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Nasserist Party

Al-Nour: Official paper of the Salafi Nour Party

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