21 November 2010
Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, the second man in the Wafd, talks to Watani about the Wafd, politics and sectarian strife
The upcoming parliamentary elections come at a time when sectarian strife in Egypt has reached appalling proportions. Watani had a talk with Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour, the secretary general of the Wafd party since 2006. Mr Abdel-Nour comes from an Upper Egyptian Coptic family that has a dynamic history in politics, and is the Wafd candidate in the parliamentary elections in his hometown of Girga. He has a reputation for being a liberal Copt.
Watani began by asking Abdel-Nour about who or what he thought could be behind the current sectarian tension. “More than one factor is definitely to blame,” he said, “but it can all be summed up in what constitutes the prevalent culture today. This culture is the outcome of a fanatic religious address, a biased media, and school curricula that have long been discriminatory against Christians. One needs only count the number of religion-based shows aired on State-owned TV to know how widespread Islamised attitudes have become. And on private channels, Islamic TV is countered by Coptic TV, a situation which promotes intolerance and is alien to our Egyptian community.
“On the street, the Islamisation of the entire community is unmistakable. Greetings, dress code, trade, and general behaviour are increasingly ‘Islamic’. Copts feel alienated.
“In the education sphere, a study conducted by Dr Zeinab Radwan of Ain Shams University on school curricula throughout elementary education and on to university concluded that the curricula include notions that are contradictory to human rights and advocate discrimination based on colour, gender and religion.
“It is true that Ahmed Zaky Badr, the Education Minister since last January has launched a bold initiative to purge school curricula of discriminatory material but, let me remind you, this is not the first time an education minister has attempted to do so. Hussein Kamel Bahaa’ Eddin tried years ago to reform the curricula but was fiercely resisted by the ministry’s old guard. I expect Dr Badr’s mission to be no easy one and, on behalf of the Wafd party, as a rights activist and an Egyptian citizen first and foremost, I advise him to arm himself with guts, perseverance and firmness. I tell Dr Badr ‘we are behind you.’”
Not the answer
“Do you believe there are hidden forces that stand to benefit from a sectarianism rift in Egypt?” Watani asked. “Very possibly,” Abdel-Nour said. “It is obvious that sectarian tension is exploited and blown out of proportion; is underscored by the media in a manner sure to provoke hostile sentiments, but it is unclear who is behind all this.
“The State carries the huge responsibility of rectifying sectarian provocation, which can only be defeated through national solidarity. Presidential intervention in such case is welcome.
“The law ought to be upheld and culprits in crimes against Copts brought to justice. The common practice of ‘reconciliation sessions’, where local politicians and security officials force the Coptic victims to ‘reconcile’ with their attackers, thereby relinquishing all their civil and legal rights under the pretext of attaining social peace, makes a sham of the law. It has been proved time and again that appeasement of terrorists never works.”
Watani reminded Mr Abdel-Nour of the long-awaited unified law for places of worship which may solve a substantial number of sectarian problems, given that a major part of these problems is on account of the huge injustice involved in the building or renovation of churches. “Passing the law would go some way towards resolving sectarian tension. But it is not the answer. So might abolishing the religion box in identity papers and modifying the Constitution’s Article II which stipulates Islam as the State religion and Islamic sharia (law) as the principle source of legislation. But this is again not the answer. So long as the fanatic culture prevails, all these measures will be impotent. The underlying culture of fanaticism must change, which can only be achieved through regulations to purge the curricula, media, and religious address of fanaticism.
Copts in the party
“Let us move on to party politics,” Watani prodded. “Why don’t we as Egyptians sense the role of parties in tackling the ailments and issues of our community?”
“The trouble is that the State has come to be merged with and identified through the National Democratic Party. No space is left for any other party to play an active role. Once the Constitution is changed to allow for power rotation, and laws are enacted to ensure the freedom to form political parties and exercise political rights, all Egyptians will see the difference.
“Egypt is going through a transitional stage, moving from one political status to another. Such evolution is normal when a new generation takes over public work, whether on the legislative, administrative or juridical fronts. Modern technology has made the current new generation more open to the world, and this in itself can yield huge change.”
The Wafd has decided not to boycott the upcoming elections and is contesting them despite the anticipated irregularities. Mr Abdel-Nour said he was against positive discrimination measures such as the quota for women or the appointment of a number of MPs, several of whom are Copts and women, by the President. Instead, he calls for the slate system which, he says, ensures that marginalised groups are represented on party candidate lists.
“The Wafd party has also been undergoing changes. Our party elections were lauded as a role model in fair, transparent balloting. It brought al-Sayed al-Badawi to the topmost post in the party. Yet Badawi thought it might be a good idea to ally the Wafd with the Muslim Brotherhood and declared the Wafd was no longer a secular party. This led many Wafd members—I was one of them—to lead a movement inside the party to defend the Wafd venerable constants, major among which is national solidarity. Copts are part and parcel of the Wafd.