Problems on hold
The recent visit by an Egyptian parliamentary delegation to Washington DC involved meetings with congressmen and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives. According to the daily State-owned al-Ahram in its 3 November issue, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi enquired of the Egyptian delegation about the Copts’ conditions in Egypt. To which the Egyptian delegation, especially Coptic MP Marianne Azer, said there was no discrimination against Egypt’s Copts, and that all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, lived under the umbrella of the nation, equal in rights and freedoms without any discrimination on any front.
I would like to comment on this story and underline a few basic points:
• It does not at all matter to me what information the US or any other country has concerning Egypt’s Copts. Nor do I count on any foreign country adopting a policy or taking measures intended to supposedly alleviate the grievances of Copts. Admittedly, many Copts aspire to that and thus make sure news of our suffering is exported to the rest of the world. I insist, however, out of a firm patriotic conviction, that there can be no alternative to resolving the Coptic predicament inside Egypt, with our fellow-Egyptians, under the umbrella of the Egyptian Constitution and law.
• If disseminating the Coptic predicament outside Egypt is pointless, and it is unacceptable that the US or any other country should defend the curtailed rights of Copts in Egypt, there can be no excuse to falsify facts in official international circles. When the question of the Coptic situation is raised in official meetings with foreign bodies, the Egyptian side must handle the matter with courage and candour, asserting that these are internal problems to be dealt with by Egyptians inside Egypt; no other party may interfere. Egyptians can thus preserve their dignity and patriotism, instead of falsifying the truth, covering up facts, and resorting to hollow rhetoric that underestimates the intelligence of their interlocutors who are surely aware of the details of the topic they brought up.
• If al-Ahram published in full what took place regarding the question raised by Pelosi, leaving no part out, we should realise that the US side decided to swallow the Egyptian reply out of mere courtesy, knowing as they do the truth of the matter. But there is another possible and more ominous scenario: did the American side challenge the Egyptian reply, using the information they have about the plight of Copts in Minya and Sohag vis-à-vis their right to worship. If this were the case, then we are before an Egyptian media that selects which part of the news to convey to the public and which to withhold, making it no different than the western media we constantly point fingers at for biased, selective, negative coverage on Egypt.
• Let me remind you that for a very long time under the Mubarak regime, we used to candidly talk about Coptic grievances with foreign institutions, most of them American. We knew for a fact that they did not count on Egyptian official sources for correct information; they had to resort to independent institutions for the truth. This used to embarrass us a great deal, because it discounted the credibility and dignity of our Egyptian State. But now, after the 30 June 2013 Revolution and following the crucial changes in Egyptian policy that endowed the administration with professionalism and respect, why should Egyptians, Copts especially, gamble with credibility? And how can they think that by covering up facts and beautifying—not to say falsifying—the on-the-ground-reality, others will believe it? Wouldn’t it be more dignified if the truth is acknowledged with courage, coupled with a firm demand to be left alone to handle our affairs our way?
I hereby record my dismay at the situation. And I present to the Egyptian parliamentary delegation, as well as to all officials concerned, Watani’s meticulous account of the suffering of Copts in Minya and Sohag on account of being deprived of their right to pray and practise religious rites. I am not referring here to old incidents that some might claim to be bygone; I am talking about current on-going suffering that has taken a turn for the worse. Copts in Minya and Sohag are today suffering not only from the hatred, extremism, threats, terror and assault of fundamentalist Muslims; they also have to deal with the failure of State authorities to protect them, empower the law, and ensure them their constitutional rights. Officials have acted with disgraceful feebleness in front of fundamentalists and fanatics, so much so that they closed down churches under the pretext of ‘protecting Christians’. Whereas these same authorities did not move a finger against the fundamentalist roars of “no matter what, we’ll bring the church down”.
In an attempt to justify their deed, and in order to save face, the security authorities alleged that they closed down the churches because they possessed no license for practice of religious rites. I would like to offer them my last Watani editorial, dated 5 November 2017, under the title “Defying the law”. I wrote that the law stipulates that no building in possession of the required legal documents and where prayers are held may be closed.
Finally, to those who go abroad and brag that our Constitution establishes equal citizenship rights for all Egyptians without any discrimination, let me offer the following lines, written by a fellow Muslim. He wrote: “What equality are you talking about? As Muslims, we enjoy total freedom to pray in any place, be it a home, work place, open air space, or roadside; we neither require any licence, nor are we bothered that in praying so we might obstruct traffic or delay business. How can some of us then protest if our fellow Christians who are denied licence to pray in a church, opt for praying inside a community building or even a home?”
Indeed, what citizenship rights or equality do you give yourself the right to brag about?
12 November 2017