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Rights groups and the U.S. State Department have criticized the Egyptian government recently for failing to curb violence against the Christian minority, saying that at times security forces themselves were involved. In a recent flare-up of violence after a dispute between a Christian and Muslim, the whole Christian population of the village of Dahshour was forced to flee because of threats and failure of police to protect them.

There has also been an increase in court cases accusing Christians of insulting Islam. Usually there is little evidence, but radical Islamist outrage over the alleged insults often forces authorities to detain the Christians, allegedly to protect them.

Many among the Coptic community are demanding the Church become more inclusive as well, seeking changes in the Church’s internal laws to allow for more representation in the running of the church’s affairs and selection of the pope.

The five candidates among whom the voters were choosing the short-list Monday included three monks and two auxiliary bishops.

The youngest of the candidates, at 49, is Father Pachomios, a monk in a monastery in Wadi Natrun in western Egypt. The oldest is 70-year-old Father Raphael Ava Mina, a monk in a monastery near Alexandria and a student of the pope who preceded Shenouda.

The candidates also include Bishop Raphael, 58, once an aide to Shenouda, and Bishop Tawadros, 59, an aide to the acting pope. The fifth candidate is Father Seraphim, a 53-year-old monk who resides in the U.S., according to the state-owned Al-Ahram online newspaper.

The five candidates were selected by a group of clergymen, who winnowed them down from an initial 17 applicants. Among those who did not make the cut were a number of senior figures from Shenouda’s papacy who were seen as too hardline — making controversial statements against Islam, trying to impose a heavy conservatism among Copts and aggressively putting bishops before disciplinary committees.

The disqualified figures were “polarizing,” said Sameh Fawzi, a Coptic scholar. Coptic leaders “are looking for consensus figures to build the Church from inside.”

“They were also looking for a candidate who had no public and media debates and disagreements. They are looking for new faces.”