Even though the term “citizenship rights” came up more than once in President Hosni Mubarak’s electoral platform, no definition of the term was cited, nor was any scientific or procedural standard of it outlined. Consequently, no flaws in citizenship rights were diagnosed—neither relevant to Egyptians as a whole nor any specific sector of them.
It is no secret that citizenship rights deficiencies involve in the main part—if not entirely—Copts. Because of their religious identity, Egyptian Christians suffer a plethora of problems on the legislative, political, social, and behavioural levels. It is thus imperative to admit the problem, define and diagnose it, and thence prescribe treatment. Much has already been done throughout the past three decades on that front, starting with the recommendations of the Oteify Committee commissioned by the Egyptian Parliament in 1972 to report on the problem and recommend solutions, and through countless declarations and conferences on that head. Among the most recent such events were the Zurich Symposium in September 2004, the Egyptian Journalist Syndicate Group’s Declaration of the Egyptian Council of Citizenship Rights in February 2005, and the Montreal Declaration in June 2005.
Discounting the conspiracy theory and accusations of unwarranted interference in our domestic affairs—allegations which are promptly hurled in our media and political arena at any reform suggestions coming from outside Egypt—it is worth noting that those who tackle the problem of citizenship rights, whether Muslim or Christian, are concerned Egyptians. If we take into consideration that denial and escapism have led to a lack of any Egyptian official, partisan, or popular initiative to tackle the problem, there is no reason why initiatives from outside Egypt should not be given due thought.
The most recent of such initiatives was posted to me by a group of Egyptian-Americans
from the Greater Chicago area, who met under the auspices of the Egyptian-American Society to discuss what could
be done for Egypt at this
critical period in its history. The
result was a declaration on citizenship rights in
has been all-inclusive in contemporary
Egyptian history, but
tensions have been growing between
Muslims and Christians, and were reflected within the Egyptian
communities in the United States and elsewhere in the world. Concerned about this situation, a
Group of Egyptian Americans
“It is obvious that the Christian minority in Egypt feels the pressures of marginalisation, intimidation, and even exclusion. This social climate has led to withdrawal of the Coptic community, and increased polarisation of the Egyptian society.
“The Group recognises that the intolerance and prejudice cannot be attributed to religious factors alone, but also derive from social and educational factors, in addition to ignorance, suspicion, and indifference to issues of religious intolerance.
“Accordingly, the Group believes that a set of basic principles and guidelines should be elaborated to address these problems and create a better climate of understanding between the two communities. The following Basic Principles and Implementing Guidelines—neither all-inclusive nor all-encompassing, and not likely to entirely satisfy all concerned—are not intended to direct blame, but to bring about inter-religious understanding, enhance national unity, and advance equality and human rights of all in Egypt.
• “Egypt is a homeland for all Egyptians, irrespective of differences in religion or ethnicity.
• “All citizens must be allowed to enjoy and exercise equal rights, including freedom of religion and its practice, in accordance with the Constitution and international human rights legal obligations. Nothing in policy or practice should abridge these fundamental rights.
• “Egyptians should be called upon to set aside religious intolerance, reinforce the unity of the nation, and advance social harmony. It is imperative that the government, religious establishments and civil society institutions should confront all forms of discrimination and disparity between Egyptians.”
Apart from the above basic principles, the following guidelines were proposed:
• “A unified law for building and repairing places of worship should be issued and applied to all Egyptians.
• “Official documents and papers should not contain the religious identification of persons, except where there is a demonstrable and valid reason.
• “Intolerant religious messages, as demonstrated in undue comparison of faiths and ridicule of other religions in the media, school curricula, and sermons, should be prohibited.
• “The number of appointments and access to leadership positions in the government, military, police, universities, regional and local councils, should be increased for Christians. A law for affirmative action should be considered, to guarantee a percentage of non-Muslims—provided required qualifications are met—in governmental and institutional positions.
“The Group, having reached these conclusions, decided to circulate this text to a wider audience of Egyptians inside and outside the country, with a view to develop a broad constituency capable of taking their viewpoints to governmental and religious leaders, and to Egyptian civil society.”
Even though the above
declaration was written outside Egypt, it is
purely Egyptian in spirit and soul. It remains for us in