No sectarian problem in Egypt?

05-10-2012 03:34 PM

Youssef Sidhom

On his recent visit to New York to speak before the UN General Assembly, President Mohamed Mursi met the Egyptian Americans there, and spoke to the media several times. All

There was no discrimination against Copts in Egypt?
On his recent visit to New York to speak before the UN General Assembly, President Mohamed Mursi met the Egyptian Americans there, and spoke to the media several times. All through, he insisted there was no discrimination against Copts in Egypt; he even looked amazed at the mere thought of any sectarian problems or constraints against the Copts whom he categorically denied were a religious ‘minority’. At best, these declarations by the President are seen by those who are close to the Coptic reality as expressions of good intentions or goodwill. In fact, however, they are far removed from the facts on the ground, and disregard the dire need for the State to take corrective and legislative action to bring citizenship rights to the Copts. 
It does no harm to hear some good rhetoric that expresses the President’s tolerance; but this is not what those concerned with the Coptic question wish to hear. It somehow reminds me of the former President Mubarak’s declarations in the wake of incidents of sectarian strife, in which he used to insist there was no difference for him between a Muslim and a Copt. Yet he did nothing to treat the root causes of the problem, nor to take to account the political or security officials in his administration who collaborated to create the morbid climate which produced the sectarianism.
Today, President Mursi’s honeyed rhetoric is not working. Egyptians desire to hear instead what he intends to do to put an end to the suffering of the Copts and the discrimination against them. How can the Copts in Egypt be equal to their Muslim fellow citizens while the legislation that governs the building of their respective places of worship so flagrantly favours mosques over churches? How can the President say there is no sectarian problem even as he holds in his hands legislation that is among the most discriminative against Copts, that of alone approving the building of new churches—the building of mosques need no such approval. Is Mursi not aware that such discriminative legislation works to promote the sectarian climate which now prevails all over Egypt?
I know that Dr Mursi has been president for little over three months, and holds the reins at a critical time when challenges and priorities abound. I know he spares no effort to get Egypt up and running again. But I also know that he gives his back to the problems of the Copts. 
If it is not possible for President Mursi to move the Coptic problem up on his agenda, he may at least acknowledge its existence and perhaps announce a future vision for the legislative and political measures intended to resolve it. This alone, not the honeyed rhetoric, will persuade the Copts and all who care about citizenship rights in Egypt that the problems will one day be resolved. It will foster understanding and patience until that day arrives.
If President Mursi is unaware of the fanaticism and discrimination Copts have been agonising under for the last four decades, he cannot be oblivious to the successive attacks against the Copts and their churches, which have taken place since the 25 January 2011 Revolution. He has surely heard the pledges made by former Premier Essam Sharaf to pass legislation for a unified law for places of worship, and to reopen the many churches in Egypt that had been closed for ‘security reasons’. Sadly, these pledges went unfulfilled. Promises to this effect, and to the passage of an anti-discrimination law were also given by the then ruling Military Council; again, they did not materialise. Does not the President realise that all these problems—and promises—passed over to him when he became president? What is he waiting for to take the initiative for reform, he who has full legislative authority in the absence of parliament? Does he posses the political will to be ‘a president for all Egyptians’ as per his electoral promise? 
President Mursi has appointed two honourable, competent Copts among his aides, and to them he referred the file of democratic transition and citizenship rights. It makes sense that we should wait and see the outcome of their joint effort. But this does not make it any more rational for the President to say on every occasion that there are no problems whatsoever where the Copts are concerned, so where can there be any need for political or legislative reform in that respect? 
WATANI International
7 October 2012
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