Last Tuesday, the independent Cairo daily al-Youm al-Sabei printed a story on a meeting between a number of Coptic figures and representatives of the presidency. Having myself been among those Coptic figures, I would like to cite here what actually took place in that meeting.
The meeting in question was not with the president, neither was it held at the presidential headquarters, nor was it a few days back, as mentioned by al-Youm al-Sabei. It was held mid-February at the Diplomats’ Club in Downtown Cairo, upon an invitation from Mohamed Rifaa al-Tahtawi, the presidency’s chief of staff.
Representing the presidency were Mr Tahtawi; Dr Yasser Ali, the spokesman for the presidency; and presidential aides Dr Pakinam al-Sharqawi and Dr Ayman Ali.
The Coptic figures who attended were the prominent Wafdist and former cabinet minister Mounir Fakhry Abdel-Nour; the researcher, intellectual, and former presidential aide Samir Morqos; the businessman and member of the Coptic Orthodox Melli Council Nader Riyad; Judge Amir Ramzy; and Watani editor-in-chief and Melli Council member Youssef Sidhom.
The meeting saw a candid, serious analysis and discussion of the situation in Egypt since the 25 January 2011 Revolution. The representatives of the presidency began by confirming that the current political, economic, and security situations leave a lot to be desired. An ongoing dialogue, they insisted, was needed between the various factions and partners in the homeland in order to crystallise an all-Egyptian perception to overcome the crisis. They made it clear that the presidency admitted it had made several mistakes, but that the opposition was pouncing on the regime’s faults and, together with the media, exaggerating them and building up a hostile public opinion in order to ensure the failure of the presidency. The presidency, they stressed, wished to listen to the various opinions concerned about the nation in order to reach pragmatic, possible solutions to improve matters.
The Copts individually presented their assessment of the current situation in Egypt, and their vision of how to tackle the rampant instability and decline. They stressed that they were not there in their capacity as Copts or representative of Copts, but as Egyptians first and foremost, and that they should never be seen as separate from the national ranks.
They agreed that the presidency did commit serious errors that have taken the country on a path of political instability, violence and bloodshed, and now places it on the brink of civil strife. The presidency had no qualms whatsoever about blatantly siding with the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the President’s earlier pledge to be a president for all Egyptians.
The Copts said that the abuse of power by the President reached its peak last November when he issued the Constitutional Declaration that empowered him to assault the judiciary and the constitution, and which gave rise to extensive public strife that has since absorbed the various political streams and the outcome of which we suffer from to this day.
The political and security breakdown, together with the State abandoning its role in defending the rule of law, led to economic collapse. Production ground to a halt, and businessmen and capital—Egyptian, Arab, and foreign alike—fled the country.
Even though the Copts, who had taken an active part in the revolution and held high hopes that they would finally attain the citizenship rights that had eluded them throughout the past decades, suffered as all Egyptians did, they had to sustain an added brunt on account of being Coptic. They fell easy prey to threats and attacks by the Islamists who had gained power in the wake of the revolution, while the State turned a blind eye to their suffering and humiliation and did nothing to defend them.
If the Copts are to cooperate with the ruling regime, this can only be after that regime takes specific measures to reassure them and confirm goodwill for a new beginning. These measures include the following:
• The role of the independent panel commissioned with changing the disputed articles in the constitution should be activated, and the President should be committed to refer the recommended changes to Parliament to pass them.
• A national coalition government should be formed, including a high-calibre economic team to act to salvage the economy.
• The State should go back to defend its dignity and sovereignty, enforce the rule of law, and impose order and security, in order to attain stability and a general sense of safety and security.
• A unified law for places of worship, and an anti-discrimination law should be swiftly passed. This would serve to reassure Copts that the State is serious about protecting them and achieving equality between them and Egyptian Muslims.
As the meeting drew to an end, the representatives of the presidency said that the talks had been very positive, and that they were committed to relay it transparently and precisely to the President. They said they were eager for further meetings to tackle the problems that threaten the nation and the national effort.
Since that event, there has been no further contact between the parties involved.
7 April 2013