11 December 2011
Watani talks to Mounir Megahed of Egyptians against Religious Discrimination
With elections in full swing in Egypt to elect a new parliament, the huge Coptic turnout came as a pleasant surprise to many, especially given that 2011 has been a hard year for Copts. The year started with the bombing of the church of the Saints in Alexandria, then through brutal attacks against the Copts in Etfeeh last March, Imbaba in May, and Maspero on 9 October; some 50 Copts lost their lives and more than 500 were injured. Yet this did not scare away the Copts from voting.
Obviously, Copts, as well as the majority of Egyptians, see the elections as an opportunity to have a say in the destiny of their homeland. Yet the large Islamist win in the first round of the elections has disappointed advocates of a civil State in Egypt. Watani took the issue to Mohamed Mounir Megahed, founder and coordinator-general of Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination (MARED).
Were you with the idea of performing the elections prior to the formulation of a constitution?
I was a supporter of the Constitution First movement, and I rejected the mere ‘patching up’ of the Constitution. As an architect in profession and mindset, I believe that the architectural design of Egypt, which is the Constitution, should have preceded the building. And when the Military Council annulled the 1971 Constitution, it served to divide the nation, which was the perfect opportunity for the Islamists to rally public support for a religious State.
Was the nation also divided in the first round of the Parliamentary elections?
I don’t think so. But some Salafi movements attempted to give the elections a sectarian hue, and succeeded in a limited way. Electioneering in general was not sectarian-based. I believe the unprecedented large turnout reflects that Egyptians are adamant in having a say in their destiny, despite all attempts by non-democratic forces to scare them away, such as the Maspero massacre and the killing of the Tahrir demonstrators.
How do you assess Coptic participation in the elections?
I believe it is excellent. For once, Copts moved out of the Church’s cloak and rushed into the nation’s arms, hoping to defend their rights. Copts proved themselves as a significant factor in Egyptian political life, a force to be reckoned with. Regardless of the election results, no political entity can any more ignore them or disregard the magnitude of their vote.
Do you think that the Church has played any role in mobilising Copts?
The Church played a role in motivating the Copts towards political participation, and this is both positive and required. What we reject is that religious institutions play any role in political life. Egyptian activism is the only way to minimise the clout of religious streams.
But monitoring reports confirm Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and Salafi candidates have campaigned inside mosques.
The MB and Salafi exploitation of places of worship in campaigning is not acceptable. But I believe the violations were minimal. Worse has been their exploitation of the rampant poverty and illiteracy to offer bribes to voters. This is outright dishonesty. Yet the people have to bear the responsibility of their choices.
Do you think that Copts have politically realised their full stature?
Copts are part and parcel of the Egyptian community, and following the revolution, all Egyptians feel their worth. Copts have performed their roles as first class citizens.
Will the MB win work to discourage Copts from participating in the upcoming rounds?
The MBs precedence should not dishearten Copts or women. The sense of failure begins from inside the heart. If you believe you cannot stand up to your enemy, he will surely defeat you. But if you try once and twice, you will eventually defeat him. If Egyptians elect the religious stream, this would be a mistake, but they have to learn from their mistakes. That’s what democracy is all about.
What if MB ban democratic practices once they are in power, under the pretext that their ideology goes against democracy?
There are still so many unknowns. First, we do not know whether the MB will rule or not. Second, we do not know whether the current elections will be the ‘final’ elections. Third, if the MB do ban democracy and elections; Egyptians, who have now learned how to protest, will not stand by and do nothing.
How are Egyptians expected to deal with the rule of the MB?
Egyptians will deal with them as they dealt with all rulers. They will not accept any trespass on their personal freedom. If democracy means the rule of the political majority, it also means taking into consideration the rights of political minorities. Future elections may switch roles, and the majority may become minority. I call on the Copts not to worry because Egyptians are at heart not fanatic. The superficial fanaticism which is now taking hold will not last long.
But the large vote for hardline Islamists may reflect the opposite of this.
Egyptians in general are not straightjackets; I personally know many Muslim conservatives who were shocked at the MB and Salafi anti-enlightenment declarations. Women voters in Alexandria drove Sobhi Saleh, an MB parliamentary candidate, outside the polling station.
What about the fatwa which forbade voting for liberals and Copts?
We cannot, strictly speaking, call this a ‘fatwa’, because it has no religious basis. This was cheap blackmail of uneducated people in order to grab their votes. It was strongly criticised by many people.