What can Copts expect from the new president?

18-05-2012 02:30 PM

Georgette Sadeq

Talk of the upcoming presidential elections has almost literally taken over the lives of Egyptians these days. They wake up and sleep to election talk; they eat and drink to it; they breathe it in and breathe it out.

Talk of the upcoming presidential elections has almost literally taken over the lives of Egyptians these days. They wake up and sleep to election talk; they eat and drink to it; they breathe it in and breathe it out. 
One hears of nothing but who out of the 13 presidential candidates can be the next president, what does each have to offer if he becomes president, and who will one vote for. One is tempted to think that the new president will swoop down with a magic wand to solve all of Egypt’s problems in the wink of an eye.
The media is frantic to keep up with the scene. TV channels are full of interviews with the candidates or debates between them. On State TV, Tarek Habib presents a daily new-style debate where, in every new episode of his talk show, he poses a question which he places before each of the candidates. The viewer is left with an instant comparison of the views of all the candidates. 
“Should you be president, what would you do?”
Habib’s questions to the presidential contenders broached issues including the Nile waters, education, health, foreign relations, international treaties, relations with Israel and the US, and women’s issues. He asked: “what would you do if the constitution restricts presidential authority?” Also: “How would you reinforce relations between Egypt and the Arab World? What stance would you adopt vis-à-vis the Arab common defence project, economic integration within Arab countries, and the revival of the Arab common market?” Viewers noticed, however, that none of the candidates offered specific detailed plans of action as to how to tackle issues; they simply presented loose lists of the principles they claimed they would follow. 
Copts who—in the absence of laws to protect them against discrimination and terrorism—have repeatedly suffered from alienation, discrimination and fanaticism, especially cared to know how the next president would deal with their problems and grievances. They therefore rightly awaited the answers to Habib’s question in this regard. 
“The strong showing by the Islamists on the Egyptian political scene and the sweeping parliamentary majority they won has led to some sort of confusion and alarm among Egypt’s Copts. As president of Egypt, what would you do to allay these fears, especially in light of the demands to apply Islamic sharia? And how will you implement the citizenship and equality concepts cited in the constitution while at the same time gratify the Islamist stream?” Habib asked.
Rule of law
“The concepts of citizenship and human rights already exist in the constitution, and no new constitution can overlook them,” said Lieutenant General Ahmed Sahfik who is running as an independent, liberal candidate. The problem, however, he said, is that they should translate into laws that carry these principles from being ‘rights’ into ‘duties’ that the entire community should carry out. “Whoever fails to deal with all members of the community on equal footing, should be prosecuted,” he said. 
As for Islamic sharia, Shafik does not believe it implies discrimination or the deprivation of anyone of rights or equality. He explained that a bunch of laws should be enacted to secure equality and citizenship rights, and that violating these laws will be tantamount to a sectarian sedition and will be thus dealt with as a national security violation.
Not Copts alone
To the same question Abdel Moneim Abul-Fotouh who is running as an independent moderate Islamist candidate, but who recently gained the support of the Salafis, answered that “freedom of belief cannot be tampered with.” 
Abul-Fotouh insisted that Copts were not exclusively the victims of injustice; the pre-revolution regime, he claimed, exercised injustice against Muslims as well. The implementation of Islamic sharia, he said, was the only guarantee for achieving justice and equality among all, not just Copts. 
“Citizens will be merited according to competence,” Abul-Fotouh said; “They will not be judged according to their religion.” Plurality, he said, enriches us and complements our society, and should not be a reason for fanaticism or rejection. He pointed out that certain measures will be applied in order to ensure equality. “We believe in a moderate Islam whose reference is al-Azhar which has already issued two rights documents that apply to all Egyptians, not to Copts alone.”
Celebrating diversity
Habib addressed the same question to the independent, liberal candidate Amr Moussa, adding a comment that slightly altered the question, “Coptic fears have increased after the hegemony of the Islamic stream and especially after the sorry events of the bombing of the Saints church578746~1.JPG in Alexandria on New Year Eve 2011. So how can Amr Moussa, in case of winning the presidency, find a middle ground between the radical Islamic principles and the concepts of citizenship rights and non discrimination?”
“First and foremost, I reject the branding of the Alexandria Saints church bombing as a ‘sorry event’, since the term so widely used by the media utterly fails to express the criminal, vicious event,” Moussa remarked. “I was the first to reject the allegation made by the then interior ministry and the media that ‘foreign hands’ were mainly behind this incident,” he said. “There is unmistakable fanaticism and extremism in Egypt. We should have the courage to admit that if we are ever to confront and eradicate them; otherwise Egypt in its entirety risks being wiped off the map,” he pointed out. Revisionist culture and rampant ignorance, coupled with deterioration in education, are all to blame for fanaticism.”
“We should weed out fanaticism,” Moussa said, “by reforming education and fostering the authentic Egyptian cultural norms that honour diversity and plurality, and accepting the other. We should establish an education system that would take us back to our national roots.” In this respect Moussa was alluding to the Islamist predominant culture that anything non-Islamist is inferior as opposed to the Egyptian culture famous for celebrating and embracing diversity.
Since their early years, children should learn that their comrades are their partners in school and in life and that they should collaborate together in face of any outside enemy. “Muslims,” said Moussa, “should know that religion is based on tolerance, justice and rights.”
Take the initiative
Mohamed Selim al-Awwa had another viewpoint. The independent Islamist candidate started by posing the question: ‘who is the other?’ “In my opinion,” he said, “the other is not necessarily one who belongs to a different religion. I have raised my children that they should accept the other, who could be their own brother or sister. 
“All so-called sectarian incidents revealed discrimination against Copts.” Awwa added, “and occurred because the law was not implemented or was lacking in the first place.” And under the previous regime, he continued, sectarian incidents did not occur against Copts alone, but also against Islamic establishments.
“When Pope Shenouda III passed away last March” Awwa reminded, “the Copts were offended when a number of Muslim MPs refused to observe a moment of silence in mourning for the Pope. But I call upon the Copts: do not wait for initiatives from others; do not withdraw and isolate yourselves from your partners in the nation simply because they showed no sympathy with you.”
The Copts, in Awwa’s opinion, should take the initiative to seize their full rights.  
No restrictions?
For his part, the independent, leftist, liberal candidate Hamdeen Sabahi said that the concept of citizenship is already in place. “We work for a liberal rule,” he said, “where the principles of the moderate Islam we are all familiar with are applied.
“The previous regime sowed hatred and sedition among the various members of the community,” Sabahi said. “The Copts were the main victims of discrimination, but Muslims also suffered. There was no equal opportunity, and all the privileges were enjoyed solely by the ruling party members and their retinue. After the revolution there are no restrictions on free thought or freedom of belief.” This remark in particular drew some skeptical comments from Copts, who insist they have experienced neither form of freedom since the revolution; rather, the Islamisation of the community has been going on full force.
Sabahi said that the laws which secure the rights of Copts, and which have long gone lacking, must be enacted. “I call upon the Copts to persevere and strongly demand an end to discrimination and the curtailment of rights and freedoms.”     
WATANI International
20 May 2012


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