21 March 2010
Today I go back to tackling the Shubral-Kheima conference on citizenship rights, which I began last Sunday by commenting on the viewpoints voiced by Qalyubiya governor Adly Hussein regarding Coptic issues. This week I tackle the ones voiced by MP Mustafa al-Fiqi who has a reputation of being an enlightened moderate. To a question about the delay in passing a unified law for building places of worship, Dr Fiqi said that Egypt must first form a ministry or supreme committee for religious affairs that would shoulder the responsibility of supervising the procedures of the building of places of worship. This should be prerequisite to passing the law and should be taken as an opportunity to iron out all the details, since the absence of a single authority in charge of the building of places of worship stands behind the delay in passing the law.
I hope Dr Fiqi has read the draft of the law, since it answers just what he is calling for. The bill presented to Parliament in 2004 by MP Mohamed Guweili and approved by the Proposals Committee in Parliament is very concise and, if implemented, would put an end to the multiplicity of authorities that have a say in the building of churches—but not mosques, which require no permitting in the first palce. The bill places the permitting under the charge of the building authorities, barring thus the security and political authorities from their current absolute, unquestionable, and unaccountable sway over the permitting process; they are not even under the slightest obligation to offer an explanation when they reject a permit application. These authorities act as the bottleneck through which applications for building churches pass before finding their way to the president’s desk for a final permit. Hence the need for legislation to stipulate a single authority in charge of building places of worship, to achieve equality between mosques and churches.
I remind the reader that a replica of MP Guweili’s bill was presented to Parliament by four other MPs in 2007 in the wake of the sectarian attack against the Copts of Ayaat, Giza. And yet another, detailed, bill was presented by the National Council of Human Rights (NCHR) in autumn of the same year. So the predicament of the multiplicity of authorities concerned, which Dr Fiqi uses as a pretext to delay passage of the law, has been perfectly settled in the current bills.
Dr Fiqi then moved on to the Coptic complaint of the dearth of Copts in high-ranking State positions, even when they are entitled to such posts by virtue of competence and seniority. He boldly denied any discrimination aginst Copts in this sphere, saying that the era of President Mubarak has seen Copts promoted to countless senior positions, especially in the Foreign Ministry. But it escaped Dr Fiqi’s attention to specify what senior posts have Copts occupied in the departments of the presidency, the intelligence apparatus, the military forces, the police, the State security apparatus, as well as head posts in universities, banks, and the judiciary. Dr Fiqi is fond of recalling the case of Judge Alfonse Riad, the Copt who was granted his right to a senior post by virtue of the personal intervention of President Mubarak. But Mr Riad was an exception; Coptic names on the lists of junior assignments to the prosecution, judiciary, and police are few; they are scarce on the intermediate assignments; and are absent from the senior assignment lists. What good is it to persist in drawing us into trivial discussions with the aim of falsifying the truth? Much better to attempt to rectify it.
I have a real-life, typical, story to tell Dr Fiqi. I got a letter from Dr Adel Ghali Seif who heads the department of Nuclear Science at the Atomic Energy Authority’s Nuclear Research Centre, complaining that he was last year excluded from the post of head of the authority, even though he was the most eligible candidate, and was told the position was “not open to Copts”. The same scenario was repeated this year when he became eligible to head the centre. Dr Seif has to his credit some 50 papers published in international scientific periodicals and a list of awards including a 1996 State Encouragement Prize and a 1997 Medal of Excellence.
I refer Dr Seif’s complaint to the Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif and to the NCHR head Boutros Boutros-Ghali. As for Dr Fiqi, I remind him that a single case such as Mr Riad’s does not constitute non-discrimination. Citizenship concepts can never be supported by recalling sweet memories of the good old days, but need some solid facts on today’s ground to consolidate them.