Problems on hold
President Mubarak, one more time: Egypt of the Muslims and Copts
“The concept of citizenship rights
forms the basis of the relationship between the citizen and the State. In this
context, it is hoped that the ‘religion’ box [which identifies the holder’s
religion on his or her identification documents] would be abolished from
official papers.’ The words belong to Dr Mustafa al-Fiqi,
head of the foreign affairs committee of the Egyptian Parliament. He made this
statement during the opening ceremony last month of the centre for dialogue
between Islam and the West, at the Roman Catholic Patriarchate in
It is a self-evident truth though that an Egyptian’s religious identity can—in nine cases out of ten—be easily spotted without resorting to his or her ID. Names alone are a telltale sign. Both Copts and Muslims are generally named after saints of their respective religions. So the objective of abolishment of the religion box from IDs, job application forms, or any other document, is not the mere hiding of one’s religious identity—a next-to-impossible feat, but the confirmation that citizenship rights, competence, and adequate qualifications are not subject to religious identity. It goes without saying that for such a move to be effective, systems of follow-up and accountability should be firmly in place.
I have repeatedly written on the problem so frequently faced by Copts when they apply for the new computerised ID cards. When they apply for the new birth certificate required in the process, many Copts find themselves registered—in the religion box—as Muslims born to Muslim parents. When they attempt to prove that this data is incorrect, by referring to their own and their parents’ original birth certificates, marriage certificates, or death certificates if needs be, they are told that these are insufficient, and are ordered to obtain proof from the National Archives. No matter that the fault is in the first place that of the civil register clerk, and no matter that the entire situation is unreasonable and unjust. The Coptic citizen nonetheless is obliged to waste an incredible amount of effort and time to correct a fault not of his or her own doing. Worse still, no clerk has to date been questioned or held accountable for the errors that result in so much agony by blameless citizens.
It is true that civil servants in
The oral examinations of college students represent another notorious case of flagrant discrimination against Copts because of their religious identity. Coptic students frequently fall prey to fanatic teachers and professors who insist upon giving them low grades in oral exams, where their identity is disclosed. Contrariwise, these same students usually score top grades in written exams, where students are only identified by secret numbers. As though these top-grade Coptic students are suddenly infected with collective ignorance or stupidity when it comes to oral exams.
This flagrant categorisation of Egyptians according to their religious identity, and their consequent division into deserving or non-deserving, accepted or rejected citizens, their rights granted or withheld, constitutes a serious flaw in Egyptian citizenship rights, which no amount of sweet rhetoric can remedy.
+The steering committee of
Last week, I attended the meetings
of the steering committee of the Coptic Symposium which convened in
The committee discussed the structural division of the work groups which will be responsible for activating the symposium’s resolutions, and reviewed the scope of activity of each group, and coordination between them. The committee met the members of the different work groups, and decided with them on the basic axes along which the work was to be conducted. Among these were:
1. Activating the resolutions of the Zurich Symposium of September 2004.
2. Presenting a work plan to the steering committee for revision and approval.
3. Presenting a quarterly report to the steering committee for assessment and discussion of measures to control the work and improve performance.
4. Official communiqués may only be issued by the work groups if they are reviewed and approved by the steering committee.
5. Adopting a peaceful, balanced, non-antagonistic attitude in all talks or writings related to the work of the group.
6. Confirming the spirit
7. Working to build
bridges of mutual understanding, respect, and dialogue on the official and
civil levels, inside and outside
8. Avoiding all forms of implication of religions or ridicule of faith, since they only serve to mar the cause of equal citizenship rights, and impair goodwill between citizens.