The Coptic schoolteacher Mervat Seifein from Beni Mazar, Minya, was twice during the last two weeks rejected by Minya students for the explicit reason that she is Coptic.
Mervat Seifein had been promoted on 8 February to school director of Beni Mazar Secondary Girls’ School in Beni Mazar, Minya. It was a routine promotion in which she replaced the previous school director who is a Muslim. The students, however, protested and held a sit-in in the school courtyard asking for her removal and that the previous director, Gamal Abu-Bakr Muaz, should remain in office. They were joined by a few teachers. Ramadan Abdel-Hamid, the Minya deputy to the Education Minister, responded to the girls’ demands. He went back on the decision to appoint Ms Seifein as school director for Beni Mazar Secondary Girls’ School, and the students disbanded.
Since Ms Seifein is due for promotion in her job, Mr Abdel-Hamid met her on Saturday 27 February and offered her the post of school director of the Boys Technical School in Beni Mazar, where she has been deputy to the headmaster since 2011. She willingly accepted and, on the following day, headed to school as usual, this time to act as school director. She was stunned, however, to find the students there holding a demonstration against her becoming school director, on account of her being a Copt. “We don’t want a Christian,” they cheered. The police could not manage to disband the boys’ demonstration in the school courtyard.
Ms Seifein is furious, alarmed and astonished. She told Watani that the Education Directorate’s compliance with the demands of the Beni Mazar Secondary Girls’ School’s students encouraged others to follow suite in their challenge of the law, “absolutely undermining thus the State of the rule of law”, she said.
“The girls who demonstrated against me don’t know me,” she said, “so why the resentment? Simply because I am Coptic? The only explanation I can fathom is there has been fanatic incitement going on against my promotion, possibly by persons who are purely extremist or who have an interest in keeping me out of that post.”
Even worse is that the fanatic desire to not have a Coptic superior spread like wildfire and caught up with Ms Seifein in the school where she had been deputy to the headmaster since 2011. “It is heart breaking,” she says. “I enjoyed very good relations with the schoolteachers and students throughout my time as deputy. Can fanaticism work such unwarranted antagonism?”
Predictably, the issue aroused heated discussion on the media and social media. Copts and liberals roundly condemned the fanaticism and feebleness with which officials of the Education Ministry handled the matter, giving in so easily to the unreasonable demands of students. Hosted by a number of TV talk shows, Mr Abdel-Hamid explained the students’ demonstrations off by claiming that Ms Seifein was not ‘popular’, and that the local Education Directorate had received complaints against her. But many saw his explanation as laughable; where were these complaints when the directorate decided to promote her?
Magdy Melek, MP for Minya, said the incident borders on dark comedy. “It is still an isolated case,” Mr Melek said. “But, left unchecked, it threatens to undermine the legitimate opportunity of Copts to government jobs or promotions. Such sedition should be nipped in the bud; otherwise, the State stands to lose all dignity and authority.”
Ezzat Ibrahim, a Minya activist, demanded that a prompt official investigation be conducted into the matter. “This is flagrant religious discrimination,” Mr Ibrahim says. “It brings to mind the incident in the southern province of Qena when the Islamists rose against the appointment of a Coptic governor during the post-Arab Spring weeks in 2011, and the State gave in and went back on the appointment.
“It is catastrophic that some 50 or 100 teenage girls or boys should impose their will on the State. And it is equally disastrous that these students were pushed to do so by some fanatic Islamists. The positive official response to their preposterous demands amounts to an invitation for religious discrimination. The deputy minister who did that must be dismissed.”