In an interview with
The words are beautiful, and—coming from the president of the republic—confirm that the State views all citizens as equal regardless of religion. If the aim of such talk was to secure the concept of “national unity” and to consolidate the relations between the “two elements of one nation”, then some believe that this aim was fulfilled. My personal view is that this aim was only fulfilled on the by-now familiar level of tranquillisers, that is masking the real ailment through sedation with sweet rhetoric, instead of working to treat it. It pains me to write that the “national unity” and “two elements of one nation” slogans have become outdated, meaningless, and are no longer acceptable. Among the circles of intellectuals and writers, these slogans have gained notoriety as confirming the categorisation of Egyptians according to their religion, then hailing a hollow unity between the people of both religions. This in turn breeds deplorable, discriminatory concepts and practices, which even the best rhetoric can in no way beautify.
The president said that differentiation between Copts and Muslims is nothing but an allegation made by foreigners. I beg to disagree. Inequalities exist; they are well-established and documented. And worse, having been the subject of steady official denial, nothing has been done to remedy them. During the recent sectarian events of last month, I noted that it was comforting that many Muslims have now come to acknowledge the inequalities and denounce them. They discussed what could be done to fix the faults in citizenship rights for Copts, within the wider national Egyptian perspective, regardless of colour, gender, or religion.
I cannot imagine that the president is unaware of the fact that one of the major inequalities between Muslims and Copts concerns the legislation which governs their rights to build their respective places of worship. Muslims enjoy absolute, unfettered rights to allocate, purchase, or own land upon which they can build mosques. They are offered facilities to obtain approvals and building permits from the relevant authorities. Copts, on the other hand, face countless obstacles or obstructions in securing land—whether through allocation by the State or direct purchase—for building a church. Then begins the long, agonising journey of applying for the required security approvals to build the church. This process involves the required fulfilment of the notorious Ten Conditions—a legacy of an outdated, discriminatory regulation which dates back to 1934, and which places confining, all-but-impossible to meet conditions to build a church. If the Ten Conditions are however fulfilled, the application has to garner a long ascending list of official and security approvals, up to that of the president of the republic who alone holds the authority to decree the building of the church. No time span limits the period required until the final approval; the agony may be indefinite. What a difference between this ++Via Dolorosa++ Copts have to traverse to build a church, and the rosy one traversed by their Muslim partners in the homeland to build a mosque!
This legislation which maintains the
approval of building churches in the hands of the head of the State alone goes
back to the 1865 Ottoman Himayouni Edict, when
This legislative flaw is but one of the forms of discrimination between Copts and Muslims. It is not the only one.