Egypt is no stranger to discrimination, perhaps the most notorious being discrimination based on gender and religion. So it comes as a comforting move that the House of Representatives is currently discussing two bills that aim at putting an end to discrimination. One bill was presented by MP Alaa Abdel-Moneim, spokesperson of the Support Egypt Coalition, and the other was presented by MP Anissa Hassouna. The Speaker of the House of Representatives Ali Abdel-Aal has referred both bills to the Legislative Affairs and Human Rights committees.
The Human Rights Committee started with discussing the bill presented by Dr Hassouna, which already has the support of 214 MPs out of the 506 MPs who form Egypt’s unicameral parliament. In the introduction to her bill, Dr Hassouna says that the principle of equality and non-discrimination is an integral part of the rule of law in democratic countries founded on respect for freedoms and human rights. “The Legislative Authority is one of the main pillars of democracy”, she says, “since it works for the people’s best interests and fulfils their hopes in establishing a modern civic State based on justice, equal opportunity, and respect for the law. It is therefore the responsibility of the House of Representatives to issue legislation and laws that meet the needs and ever-changing conditions of the society. In this regard, Parliament must give priority to activating the articles of the 2014 Constitution that promote equality, non-discrimination, and human rights, and that set unprecedented guarantees in this regard.” Article 53 of the Constitution, Dr Hassouna says, obligates the State to establish a commission to translate these articles into real laws that protect the people’s best interests.
The commission, according to Dr Hassouna, must be established as an independent body under the authority of the President of the Republic and the supervision of the Prime Minister and must include members from Egypt’s governorates and from those groups most discriminated against. A branch of the commission must be established in every governorate to play the same role as the parent body; meaning to oppose all forms of discrimination in legislation and policies, to investigate citizens’ problems and work on solving them, to file reports and complaints to the Public Prosecution.
MPs in favour
MP Hassouna says that her bill lays the ground for the rule of law and for equality among all citizens in rights, freedoms and public duties without any discrimination relating to religion, faith, gender, race, colour, language, disability, social class, political or geographical belonging, or any other criteria in accordance with the Constitution. The bill demands that the State set policies and programmes to ensure equality and ban discrimination, and stipulates that positive discrimination may be granted in exceptional cases to specific groups provided it is in line with the rightful goals it is aimed to accomplish. These groups include women, children and persons with disability, but no mention was made of Copts.
The commission, as stipulated by the bill, must establish short, medium, and long-term plans for the goals to be accomplished, the priorities of implementation, and the expected time frame. The bill obligates the commission to issue annual reports to the President, the House of Representative and the Cabinet citing the results of its work and activities. The bill also allows the commission to issue special reports on any specific occasion or event that warrant special reporting, in addition to a closing report every four years.
The bill was approved by the Department of Fatwa and Legislation at the Justice Ministry, which asked that a few amendments should be made in the syntax. It was also approved by the Finance Ministry which demanded that the commission should open a special bank account at the Central Bank of Egypt. MPs have generally been positive about the bill which will be thoroughly discussed in joint meetings with the Legislative Affairs Committee.
Dr Abdel-Aal referred to the Legislative Affairs and Human Rights committees another bill presented by MP Alaa Abdel-Moneim who was able to collect 16 MPs’ signatures in support of the bill. The proposed bill, he says, includes 16 articles and obligates the State apparatuses and NGOs to protect the principle of citizenship and take all necessary measures to put an end to all forms of discrimination. It defines citizenship as the full and equal membership in the Egyptian society, without any discrimination based on religion, gender, colour, race, economic or social class, political affiliation and intellectual stance.
MP Abdel-Moneim says that the bill binds all State institutions to respect citizenship rights represented in the right to education, health care, work, and to safeguard freedom of opinion, faith, practice of religious rites, and equal treatment before the law.
The bill also bans the State and its apparatuses from discriminating among citizens in issues such as job recruitment. Breaking the non-discrimination law, as proved by complaints presented to the anti-discrimination commission, carries prison sentences. The bill also stipulates that employee selection for all positions must be based on competence and capability, reflecting the skills and aptitudes of the job candidates. Recruitment and promotion for public servants must be made through advertisement, and the candidates have the right to learn about the selection results and the criteria on which selection was based.
The ‘religion’ field
To consolidate the principle of citizenship, Mr Abdel-Moneim suggests in article 3 that the ‘religion’ field must be removed from national ID cards and official documents and to make it illegal to force anyone to disclose his or her religion unless necessary as in case of legal disputes involving inheritance, marriage, or divorce.
Mr Abdel-Moneim says that the bill obligates the State to equally ease the building and restoration of mosques, churches, synagogues and monasteries and any other place of worship at the request of the competent religious authorities. These are the Ministry of Endowments in case of mosques; the Patriarchates of the Coptic Orthodox, Catholic or Protestant or any other denominations in case of churches, and the Jewish Rabbi in case of synagogues.
The bill insists that faith is a personal matter, and bans interference with one’s freedom in choosing his or her faith or interpreting it. It also bans the formation of any kind of association or society based on religious, racial, tribal or geographic location. Any existing such bodies must be dissolved and their licenses revoked as of the date of implementation of the anti-discrimination law; whoever works on or announces the illegal formation of such bodies is sentenced to prison. The bill also sentences to prison whoever establishes, organises or runs an association, organisation or group that endorses or resorts to violence or intentionally broadcasts fallacious news, information or rumours. Furthermore, the bill sentences to prison whoever incites by any means against a group of people, disdains them or their religion, insults their religious symbols or attacks in any way their places of worship.
According to MP Abdel-Moneim, it is the State’s responsibility to ensure that school curricula, literary and cultural publications, and artistic performances call for tolerance and acceptance of the other. The State must be held accountable for the spread of anything that promotes sectarianism, rejection of the other, disdain of religion, or puts national unity at stake. Criminal proceedings in the crimes stated in the bill must be filed in accordance with criminal procedure code.
The Constitution, MP Abdel-Moneim says, supports the articles of the bill. Since the role of the legislator is to translate the provisions of the Constitution into binding laws, he says, the bill aims to translate the constitutional principles into articles that criminalise discrimination and uphold citizenship rights. This is why the bill proposes to delete the religion field from all official papers.
“I had been thinking of drafting an anti-discrimination bill long before I was elected to Parliament,” MP Abdel-Moneim told Watani. “However, the recent sectarian clashes in Minya prompted me to directly propose the bill.
“I am convinced there is no such thing as Christian Egyptians or Muslim Egyptians,” he said, “We are all Egyptians and this is exactly the concept the bill supports. Many MPs support the bill and the feedback they gave me has been very positive.”
15 June 2016