Tomorrow we leave behind 2007 and move forward, amid greetings and good wishes, to 2008. We turn over a new leaf and open a blank page, believing the new year is a new beginning while in reality it is nothing but a mere continuation of the previous year. We begin 2008 overburdened with a heavy load of pain, yet full of hope since, despite last year’s failures and achievements, and despite our community problems, change looms on the horizon lighting up the end of the tunnel.
We have before us a lot of work if we are to achieve the desired change. The year 2008 is the year of citizenship rights—a domain which includes countless flaws and shortcomings in the implementation of rights equally between the children of the motherland. Many forms of discrimination exist between Egyptians —between the rich and poor, men and women, Muslims and Christians, original believers and converts, the powerful elite and the powerless commons, the enlightened and the revisionists, those who call for a civic State and those who call for a religious State—causing agony and holding back progress. Contradictions and discrimination have been on the rise, and are now time bombs that may explode any minute and blow us all up. Yet we possess this amazing ability of turning a blind eye to our problems, and brightly smiling to ring in the New Year.
All the above forms of discrimination divide the community into a happy, secure sector and a marginalised, suffering one. Between these two poles there exists a huge gap, threatening our peace and security. The lucky people, blind to the flaws in the system, work to consolidate their benefits and resist any change which might work for the benefit of the suffering ones. And those who suffer are consumed by despair, confusion, and envy of the lucky ones, forfeiting all feelings of belonging to the homeland—as though the homeland was only that of the lucky ones.
Anyone who doubts this need only observe the challenges we carry into 2008. Despite the huge reform on the economic front, the fruits of which have been felt on world markets, it has not yet translated into tangible results for poor Egyptians. Prices continue to spiral out of reach of the common citizen, and unemployment is still a fact of life for many. Nothing can illustrate that reality more than the Egyptian boat people who recently drowned off European coasts while chasing the dream of a better life elsewhere. Or the scene of growing shanty towns which appear to push through to the boundaries of the posh suburbs where the lucky ones live oblivious to the suffering of their neighbours. As 2008 comes in, do the lucky ones realise the danger of the situation? And do they plan to do anything about it?
The discrimination between Egyptians poses huge challenges for the coming year. Sadly, most of the problems in this respect have long been placed on hold. Our community renounces all ‘other’, be that other different from the majority or lacking in authority. Equality between men and women is subject to some pitiful power play on the part of men, who behave as though any right granted to women is a favour bestowed upon them by men. Equality in this respect is no more than a collection of slogans circulated in conferences and forums, and carrying no weight whatsoever on the grounds of reality. Half the seats of Parliament are allocated to peasants and workers not to women who really constitute half the society. To say nothing of the unending arguments on what Islam allows or bans women from doing.
As for the ‘other’ on the religious level, the new year carries the challenge of implementing the full citizenship rights of Copts so that they would be equal to their Muslim fellow-citizens. The Egyptian Declaration of Citizenship Rights has tackled this problem in detail.
We abandon 2007 with the fanatic attack against the Copts of Esna fresh in mind. The media described it as a sectarian incident, and the political leaders attempted to resolve it through a cosmetic reconciliation which is in fact vintage humiliation since it holds the victim and the attacker to be equal, and bypasses justice by allowing the culprits to escape scot-free, secure in the knowledge that attacking Copts and destroying their churches or property warrants no penalty whatsoever.
New Year 2008, we greet you with pain and hope; so much effort awaits us.