Not again! Exams on Christian feast days?

18-03-2018 09:09 AM

Youssef Sidhom

Youssef Sidhom

Problems on hold

Last week, Watani posted on its website a news item to the effect that Fayoum University’s Faculty of Engineering had scheduled final examinations for its third year students on Palm Sunday, 1 April, and Easter Sunday, 8 April. A few days later, in the wake of widespread anger among Coptic students, the college dean ordered rescheduling of the exams so that none would be set on the Christian feast days.
The exam schedule was indeed changed, but this did not eliminate my shock and horror at recurrence of the same old errors and sins we had for decades on end suffered from. The Mubarak era came to an end in 2011; the Arab Spring came in January 2011 and brought Islamists into power; the massive 30 June 2013 Revolution overthrew the Islamists and heralded in a secular Egypt; a new Constitution was established in 2014; yet the longstanding sins and errors live on. The 2014 Constitution firmly asserted citizenship rights in its First Article and, in Article 3, the rights of Christians to apply their doctrine to all concerns of their religion, personal affairs and religious leadership. What can be more associated with ‘religion’ than rites and religious feasts?
Christian religious feasts are known to all. The State has, throughout our modern history, acknowledged them according to a number of official decisions and laws:
• Prime Minister’s decision on 1 July 1953.
• President’s decision 2362 for 1967.
• Law 47 for 1978 pertaining to State civil servants.
• Law 48 for 1978 pertaining to those working in the public sector.
• Law 137 for 1981 pertaining to days off for non-Muslims working in the private sector.
• Ministerial decision 63 for 1982 and its amendments.
• Ministerial decision 92 for 1991.
• Law 203 for 1991 pertaining to those working in the public business sector.
All these rules and laws confirm the right of Copts to days off on five religious occasions: Christmas (7 January) and Epiphany (19 January) which have fixed dates; and Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday and Easter Sunday, the dates of which are inter-related and vary from one year to another. All feast days, those with fixed or variable dates, are always cited on calendars and on publications that carry dates of official and religious holidays, and are accessible to and in use by all Egyptians. It makes perfect sense to assume that calendars are accessible to apparatuses and institutions concerned with planning and scheduling exams, for them to avoid conflict with any public occasion or holiday, Christian or otherwise.
So when exams are scheduled on Christian feast days, pretexts of ‘unintentional error’ or ‘unawareness’ are neither credible nor acceptable. Yet this is exactly what Fayoum University’s Faculty of Engineering did by scheduling the Calculus and Electromagnetics finals on Palm Sunday and Easter Sunday in 2018.
It is no secret that official commitment to citizenship rights as well as tact, empathy and equality between Egyptians require that exam dates be scheduled a few days from Holy Week which is awash with religious rites and prayers relating to Easter. Do I need to remind officials at Fayoum University of what they do in relation to exams and Muslim feast days? In order to avoid conflict with or even closeness to Muslim feast days, exams are scheduled so as to have a ‘safe period’ free of exams before and following feast dates. Again, I say that equality in citizenship rights requires that Copts should be treated the same way as Muslims where feast days are concerned.
It is no longer fitting for us to repeat the same old errors and sins, or engage in the same old conflict. We have—supposedly—thrown these behind our backs so we could engage in building our new Egypt.

Watani International
18 March 2018

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