6 November 2011
Where anti-discrimination is concerned, are the authorities in Egypt applying… Double Standards
The recently-issued anti-discrimination law effectively criminalises all manner of discrimination whether based on gender, religion or race. Yet the question which begs an answer is: will it apply to Muslim fanatics who inflame the fire of extremism and hatred, or will it only be used against Copts?
On the day discrimination was legally criminalised, a young Copt named Ayman Youssef, who is in his 20s, was sentenced to three years in prison. He had been accused of harming national unity and instigating sectarian strife by using his Facebook page to “insult the Islamic religion and propagate extremist ideas”.
More seriously, the authorities appear to be doing nothing in the face of the flagrant Islamisation of the political scene today. With electioneering and campaigning for the upcoming parliamentary elections, scheduled for the end of November, now in full swing, parties which call for an Islamist Egypt are notoriously exploiting religion and their own benefit. The process involves tacit and overt discrimination; will the new law be used to put an end to it?
Most well-informed people balk at the idea of insulting other religions and believe in the importance of respect, but the sentence handed down to Mr Youssef provoked Copts, who are already feeling oppressed and discriminated against. Many Copts believe there are double standards in operation here. If this young man did something unacceptable and was justly penalised, what about the dozens of sheikhs who consistently insult Christianity on mosque pulpits, in newspapers, and on satellite channels viewed by millions. Reports are often filed against them with the legal authorities, but they are never investigated. Among those who have caused offence are such prominent writers and Islamic scholars as Mohamed Emara, Zaghloul al-Naggar, Selim al-Awa, Hussam al-Bukhari and the Salafi group spokesman Abdel-Moneim al-Shahat.
There has been no response to the many reports presented to the general prosecutor against Sheikh Yasser Borhami. The last one was made by Muslim and Coptic lawyers after he claimed on the al-Haqiqa talk show with Wa’el al-Ebrashi that Copts were apostates. He also repeated some fatwas that incited violence such as “Apostates are not to flaunt any symbols of their apostasy such as wearing or tattooing crosses, or ringing church bells in Islamic countries.” This fatwa was sounded during the incidents in the church burning in Etfeeh last March, Imbaba last May, and Merinab in Aswan last September.
Loyalty to God, not country
Sheikh Borhami especially is a Salafi Mufti—a Mufti is someone who issues fatwas, Islamic legal opinions—and, as such, is frequently asked by members of the public for his opinion on controversial issues. A policeman asked Borhami whether it was allowed by Islam for him to be on duty guarding churches or the US embassy? Would he be considered as defending apostates and apostasy? Sheikh Borhami’s reply, posted on the Salafi website www.salafvoice.com, said that ambassadors were in fact mere messengers, so they should not be killed [as apostates]. If they did things that were Islamically unacceptable, they should be asked to leave the country. “Guarding embassies is not an alliance with apostates,” the sheikh said. “As to guarding churches, it is not allowed, on Islamic grounds, to work in anything that serves churches. “
The spokesman of the Salafi group Abdel-Moneim al-Shahat has not infrequently described Copts as apostates and demanded that they should pay jizya (tax levied on non-Muslims living under Islamic rule). When asked about the ‘national State’, he replied: “Under Islamic regimes, loyalty is to God not to geographical borders. Muslims should live in one State.”
Islam is the answer
The Muslim Brothers (MB) and their Freedom and Justice party have not stopped using religious slogans, even though the practice has been outlawed. In Fayoum, members of Freedom and Justice have hung posters proclaiming “Islam is the Answer” on every available space, plastered over the walls of the university and public and private buildings, leaving no room for competitors. It is the same in Alexandria and in other towns and cities.
Mohamed Saad al-Katatni, the general secretary of the Freedom and Justice Party, told the media the party would never change its famous slogan ‘Islam is the Answer’. He said the slogan was constitutional, legal, general and comprehensive. Mohamed Morsi, head of the Freedom and Justice Party, called the slogan ‘apt for all times and places’.
So do those who hold such views wish people to believe that whoever disagrees with their ideology or programming is necessarily opposed to Islam? As the journalist Mohamed Baraka commented: “I don’t understand the secret of the Muslim Brothers’ insistence on such a slogan.”
Distant politicising for women
Meanwhile the Salafi party has caused huge controversy in the Egyptian street for nominating fully-veiled women—women wearing niqab—on the list of al-Nour Party candidates. Salafi principles ban the mixing of genders, so the nomination or appointment of women can only be under the supervision and control of men. Mona Salah, the first fully-veiled woman nominated in Giza says: “I agreed to nomination for the sake of Allah.”
This leads to an important question: how will these women speak their mind in parliament when their voices in public—as per the principles of the Salafis—is a defilement of their honour? And how will they sit beside men when, according to the group’s principles, gender mixing is totally unacceptable?
At a recent Salafi conference held in Alexandria under the name “The Role of the Egyptian Woman in Political Life”, the stage did not include any women, and there were no women speakers. In fact there was not a single woman at the first women’s conference; so how can women ever take part in decision making?