Problems on hold
Coptic demands await decisions
It is one year since Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi became President of Egypt and, even though one year is admittedly too short a time span over which to assess a president, the Egyptian media has taken it upon itself to evaluate the President’s year-long performance. The majority of those polled expressed appreciation of President Sisi’s character, performance and accomplishments.
Obviously, the President has earned the love, respect and support of Egyptians. He was honest and keen to realise the pledges he had made. His simple language and soft-spoken, truthful, realistic speech went straight to the heart of the people and rallied the arduous work much-needed for Egypt’s renaissance. From the start, he made it clear he carried no magic wand to work miracles; he openly said there was no way he could on his own save Egypt [from the ruinous aftermath of the Arab Spring] and place it back on the path of revival, and that all Egyptians had to work very hard on that score.
This vision was put into action when the New Suez Canal project was launched last August. While it was no secret that Egypt’s coffers were empty and Egyptians expected the government to resort to Arab or international funding to finance the huge project, President Sisi stunned them by saying that they alone were to fund the megaproject. He said the New Suez Canal would be the kiss of life for the Egyptian economy, and the gift Egypt offers the entire world. His words worked magic; as soon as the Central Bank issued investment certificates to fund the New Suez Canal, Egyptians rushed to buy them. In a matter of eight working days the EGP60 billion needed for the project were collected. Today, one year into Mr Sisi’s presidency and less than one year since the start of the digging works, Egypt is preparing to open the new waterway. The project was completed in record time thanks to the challenge by President Sisi to complete it in one year instead of the estimated three.
President Sisi set out on a number of State visits to strengthen bonds with Arab States, revive ties with African States—especially Ethiopia—and foster strategic relations with global powers such as Russia, China, the US and Europe. His most recent visit took him earlier this month to Germany and Hungary.
The president acted as Egypt’s best ambassador; he earned trust, respect and appreciation. He signed political, economic, and military agreements; and fostered friendly relations with various States. He acquired new friends for Egypt, but did not give up the old ones. He never antagonised anyone, never allowed himself to be drawn into verbal dispute, and was not troubled by declarations or stances against him. He always made people feel he owed them explanations of what they questioned. He cared to highlight that it was the will of the Egyptian people and their massive revolt on 30 June 2013 that led to the overthrow of the Islamist Muslim Brother President Muhammad Mursi, and the subsequent Roadmap to a democratic future drawn by representatives of the various sectors of the Egyptian community. He was keen to ascertain the independence of Egypt’s judiciary. He unfailingly adhered to the democratic path and has confirmed that the third step of the Roadmap, the parliamentary elections, will take place before yearend.
President Sisi was the star of the show at the Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) which took place last March in Sharm al-Sheikh. The EEDC set the ground for economic reform and paved the way to all States and international institutions to invest in Egypt. True, Egypt has not yet reaped the fruit, but all indicators point at a promising future that will shower Egyptians with abundance some two years from now.
All the accomplishments achieved during President Sisi’s year in office were not realised under smooth conditions; in fact they came amid the colossal challenge of fighting terrorism on all fronts, inside and outside Egypt. Egyptians from the army, police, judiciary, State institutions, and from among civilians have been paying hefty sacrifices on that front. Yet the people of Egypt have confronted the terrorism with courage and a persistence to move ahead with their business.
The admirable stance adopted by the President vis-à-vis Copts stands out. Mr Sisi was always keen that there should be no discrimination against Copts; this was obvious in his choice of consultants and aides. He maintained an open channel with Church leaders for consultations whenever the need arose. At Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve, President Sisi pleasantly surprised everyone by going himself to St Mark’s Cathedral to extend his good wishes to the Copts who were elated at the visit, a first by a State head in Egypt. He treated Copts as Egyptians, no less no more. A case in point was last February’s gruesome beheading of 20 Copts at the hands of IS in Libya. At the terrible news, President Sisi immediately ordered the National Defence Council to convene, and directed strong air strikes against IS targets in Libya. In so doing, the President defended Egypt’s prestige and avenged the innocent Coptic souls who had lost their lives.
Yet there are pivotal Coptic demands that have long remained on hold and which President Sisi has not addressed. Copts still await legislative reform regarding vital issues, especially that Egypt has had no parliament since the 30 June 2013 Revolution. Egypt’s Constitution stipulates that in the absence of parliament, the President of the Republic may issue laws that should be seen by Parliament within 15 days of its first convention. Why then did not President Sisi put an end to the legislative deadlock that is weighing heavily on the Copts? The new papal election bylaws, the new family law for Christians, and the law for building and restoring churches, all wait to be passed. And they all work to instate the freedom of Copts to practice their religious rites, as stipulated by the Constitution.
President Sisi has already issued presidential decrees that act as law regarding several issues. Equal citizenship rights for all Egyptians, Copts included, call for similar moves by the President on the Coptic front.
14 June 2015