CAIRO (AP) — The acting leader of Egypt's Coptic Church on Saturday criticized the new government sworn in by Islamist President Mohammed Morsi for what he said was an "unfair" representation of Christians that ignores their rights as citizens.
The comments by Archbishop Pachomius, who represents the majority of the country's Christians — some 10 percent of a population of 82 million — were published Saturday in the independent daily Al-Shorouk.
They follow pledges from Morsi to reach out to Copts and women in forming a new government and presidential team, in order to reassure them it will not be dominated by Islamists. The new Cabinet sworn in Thursday had five members of Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood and two other Islamists but only two women, including the Coptic minister in charge of the scientific research portfolio.
Pachomius told Al-Shorouk the Cabinet was unfair because it underrepresented Christians. "It is unfair to Copts," he said. "We had expected an increase of Copts' representation in the new government, especially after increasing the number of portfolios to 35."
In the outgoing government, Copts held two posts in a 30-member Cabinet. It was a rate that was kept in most previous governments, with Coptic ministers holding small portfolios or ones dealing with non-strategic issues.
But the archbishop said that with the increase in posts, the community had expected no less than four Coptic ministers in the new government.
In remarks to another daily, Tahrir, Pachomius described the scientific research post as only "half a ministry," telling the paper: "We reject the new Cabinet."
Morsi's new Cabinet has come under criticism from many, including women and youth groups, who felt underrepresented and saw the new team as lacking a significant break with the past.
The ultraconservative Salafi groups, who backed Morsi's bid for the presidency and who had won around 25 percent of the seats in the now-dissolved parliament, also complained they were not consulted and declined to take part in the government after they were offered only one ministerial post.
The concerns of the Coptic minority have risen with the rise of Islamists to power because they fear their rights may be curtailed and that they could become targets of extremist Muslim attacks.
Local groups as well as the United States had urged Morsi to send reassuring messages and form a broad coalition government.
Just as Morsi took office, sectarian violence erupted in a village near Cairo, forcing the whole community of Christians in the village to flee. An argument between the local laundry worker, a Christian, with a Muslim client over a burnt shirt set off days of tension and a violent confrontation that left one Muslim dead.
Many Muslims in the village of Dahshour, 50 kilometers (30 miles) south of Cairo, went on a subsequent revenge rampage, driving the Christians out.
"There is clear persecution of Copts as of late," Pachomius told Al-Shorouk. He was lamenting the eviction of nearly 100 families from Dahshour, where their properties were damaged and authorities held no one to account.
Morsi had appealed to the Christians to return to their village, saying justice would be meted out against the perpetrators of violence. But he dismissed the violence in Dahshour as an "individual" act that does not amount to sectarian violence.
"This was an individual incident and its origin is not about Muslim and Christian, and it happens every day. It was blown out of proportion," he said Friday. Morsi's spokesman denied Saturday there was forced eviction of Christians.