In last week’s editorial I tackled the question of holidays on Coptic feasts, in light of the Copts’ legitimate right to paid leave on their feast days. Many Muslims believe that the question was settled back in 2002 when President Mubarak issued a decree declaring 7 January a national holiday. But the President’s positive initiative covered only one out of five Christian feasts—Christmas, Epiphany, Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Easter Sunday. It was expected that Parliament would take cue from the President and issue legislation stipulating the other feasts national holidays, but it never did.
The coincidence between Coptic feasts and school and university examinations represents a real problem since exam schedules ignore Coptic feasts either by scheduling exams on the feast days themselves or on the days preceding or following a feast day. I do not cite this as a mere generality; I have received countless complaints from Christian students following the announcement of exam schedules.
Someone might wonder what is wrong with setting the date of an exam on 6 or 8 January, especially given that students should spend the preceding months in studying rather that waiting until the very last minutes before the exams. But the sorrowful reality that should not be overlooked is that the educational system in Egypt is based on repetition and instruction rather than creativity and comprehension. Moreover, Egyptian students suffer from firmly established exam-phobia, thus the very last day before the exam is highly significant if the student is to feel secure and confident enough in the exam. So scheduling exams on days preceding feasts—whether deliberate or not—is an inappropriate attitude, because it spoils students and families’ celebration of the feast. The inevitable outcome is a deep feeling of injustice on the part of Copts.
The injustice deals a fatal blow to principles of citizenship rights and equality among Egyptians no matter what their faith. At the time when exams were scheduled for 6, 7, and 8 January, Egyptians were granted five consecutive days off—three week days in addition to the weekend—to celebrate the Muslim Greater Bairam. Moreover, no teacher dares schedule exams on the days preceding and following the Bairam. Why are such measures not applied to Copts?
This issue has been around for so many years yet still remains among the most notorious of the issues placed on hold. I again raise the question this year since 2008 has been declared the year of citizenship rights, and the issue of Coptic feast day holidays represents one of the glaring inequalities between Egyptians.
Finally, is it possible for one to hope that the officials in charge would have sufficient courage to reconsider the dates of the exams scheduled for 6 or 8 January? Is there any hope to put an end to the injustice concerning Coptic feast holidays?
Watani celebrates its jubilee
Today Watani celebrates its jubilee. The paper’s first issue appeared on 22 December 1958. Throughout 2008 Watani will offer its readers a collection of works, publications and activities to document its journalistic course and celebrate a wonderful occasion.