Minorities in Egypt have been living in a ‘crisis era’ throughout the last six decades. By ‘minorities’ I mean Egyptians who fail to attain full citizenship rights. Women, who make for 50 per cent of society—no minority in the numerical sense—have suffered injustice,
marginalisation and patronisation at the hands of a macho community. Copts, who are a minority as far as numbers are concerned, have suffered official curtailment of their citizenship rights compared to their fellow Muslims. The State has persisted in treating Copts as second-class citizens, even concealing their real number and proportion to the Egyptian population. But the irony of it is that every time Copts required that the State divulges the exact figure of their population, they were treated to the honeyed rhetoric: “We’re all Egyptian; why do you seek a sectarian identity apart from your Egyptianness?”
Other segments of Egyptians, including youth and ethnic and religious minorities, share with the Copts this harsh reality. They bear a bitter legacy of injustice and aspire to recover their lost dignity and assert their full citizenship; to occupy State posts they are worthy of according to measures of competence alone, and to take part in running the country and building a modern Egypt.
When the revolution erupted in January 2011 and toppled the Mubarak authoritarian regime that had nurtured discrimination, all sectors of Egyptians rushed to take part in it, hopeful for a change that would give them back their self-esteem. And why not? Wasn’t “freedom, social justice and human dignity” the motto the revolution had raised? It didn’t take long, however, for the hopes of minorities to be dashed as the Islamists—under the leadership of the Muslim Brothers—jumped on the bandwagon and hijacked the revolution to their own ends. They drew Egypt into a dark tunnel and; instead of progressing politically, economically, socially and culturally, Egyptians witnessed their country shockingly deteriorate on all fronts under the Islamists. Finally, on 30 June 2013, public will supported by the armed forces—and first and foremost by Divine care—collaborated to rescue Egypt and put it back on track. Today, we all walk the Roadmap drawn by the civil and armed forces in Egypt, al-Azhar and the Church; and strive to establish a modern, democratic State.
The 30 June Revolution stood out for the unprecedented public solidarity and fusion into one national identity; the rebellion by various Egyptians against Islamist tyranny was unconditional, no sector put forward any specific demands. In fact, all Egyptians set aside their differences and long suffering and lined up behind one national goal; all other demands could wait.
Today, the historic credit of Egyptian solidarity is put to the test. As the Committee of the Fifty works on drafting and formulating constitutional amendments that would give Egypt its longed-for constitution, and amid loud political and media clamour, voices rise demanding that the ‘cake’ should be divided among Egyptians according to pre-set shares. The claim is that quotas would guarantee rights and fair representation in parliament, and would provide minorities with a platform for self-expression and guard their rights and interests. ‘Quota’ is now being offered as the saviour that would rectify all wrongs and achieve fairness.
Those who defend the quota boast that it achieves justice when the cake is divided, and empowers minorities. They cite examples of other States in which the quota helped cure political and social ailments. But none appears to worry about the threat the quota poses to the public solidarity achieved in the 30 June Revolution, nor that the break-up of this solidarity would breed sectarian conflict. The community is still under the narrow concept that women’s predicaments can only be confronted and treated through the efforts of women themselves, and that Coptic grievances can only be addressed by Copts, thus calling for ‘fair’ representation for Copts and women. This sectarian outlook rules all the marginalised, and stands to attract sectors whose appetites were aroused by the prospect of the division of the cake.
As we stand on the threshold of a decisive stage in Egypt’s history, Egyptians must realise that the rules of the game have changed and that citizenship is above sectarianism. It is undeniable that representation of all sectors is the ultimate goal, so that everyone would be empowered to partake in the fine national scene. For this to be achieved through the quota system, however, is artificial and roots for sectarianism and discrimination. I prefer that we work to instil national and citizenship concepts, so that men would defend the rights of women as the Egyptian citizens that they are; for Muslims to demand the rights of Copts in their capacity as Egyptians; and for the older generation to make inroads for the empowerment of youth. This would be an effort in the right direction where the majority demands the rights of the minorities, where the strong take the hands of the weak, and the older hand the torch to the younger. Egypt should tread this path so as not to risk national divides along sectarian lines if we resort to the Lebanese model of dividing the cake.
I know that national fusion needs a long time to bear fruit, possibly the same time needed by minorities to have their feet firm on the ground of political representation if the quota system is to succeed. The quota is a temporary measure that can only go that much. And I have my fears that when this period expires the community would go back to its old sectarian habits, only because we were too scared to bet on patriotism.
24 November 2013
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