The way to Washington
The “Problems on Hold” file which I opened back in July 2002 is still open. Last week saw the 109th episode
in this series of problems which registers in the major part the curtailed citizenship
rights of Copts in
I was always convinced that acknowledging the problems—some of which were the outcome of flawed legislation, and most the product of the sick attitudes and practices that gave religious loyalties precedence over national ones—was a precondition to any remedy. I took pains to emphasise, however, the very obvious difference between diagnosing the ailment and prescribing the remedy. While I presented the former with absolute transparency inside and outside Egypt, I was outspoken in my commitment to finding answers for the latter solely within the context of a national dialogue. I was careful not to be washed away in the current which advocated foreign pressure—whether political or economic—on the Egyptian government in order to force it to tackle the curtailed citizenship rights of Copts.
With this in mind, I was always vocal on the problems of Egyptians in general and Copts in particular regarding democracy and citizenship rights. I realised it was futile to conceal or beautify facts in the transparent, well-connected world of today, and it was equally absurd to claim that Coptic grievances were a mere domestic issue in order not to tarnish Egypt’s image. This argument especially only served to fortify the syndrome, since it established the concept that no ailment mattered as long as the outward image was proper. It strongly—and bitterly—brought to mind the adage of “People who condone vice but fear scandal.”
Time and again, it was proved that candour, disclosure, and the refusal to falsify the truth, together with insisting upon a national dialogue, holding on to our partners in the homeland, and rejecting all forms of foreign intervention, earned the understanding and respect of all—especially outside Egypt. It is an attitude which harmonises with the outlook of the majority of workers in the political, diplomatic, and human rights domain. In these circles, matters are realistically reported with no attempt at beautifying or obscuring them, and peaceful co-existence, acceptance of the other, and rapprochement are encouraged as the only substitutes to violent struggle. It is also self-evident that international relations follow mutual interests and strategic alliances, and can never be subject to the aspirations of some local minority, no matter how severe its grievances.
Admittedly, there has been in every relevant convention extremist, raucous elements which clamour to mobilise foreign forces against Egypt, claiming thus to pressurise the Egyptian government into enacting the long aspired reforms. I always believed it was neither wise nor patriotic to merely condemn such repulsive attitudes and refrain from participating, since this would practically leave the field wide open for them to trifle with our cause. And it has always been highly rewarding that the presence of wise, moderate Muslim and Christian Egyptians—myself included—acted as a safety valve against blowing up the cause, and ensured that the sound of reason and patriotism was heard—and followed. Egyptians and foreigners as well appreciated and respected my insistence that Coptic grievances could only be solved through the spirit of brotherly love and fellowship between Muslims and Copts, and certainly not through any foreign imposition.
There has been so far no Egyptian initiative for the national dialogue we so long for. Political and party leaders stubbornly insist there is no problem in the first place. Legislative discrimination between Copts and Muslims persist, and practices that differentiate between then according to their religious identity abound. To say nothing of the recent blow directed to Copts by the political leadership and ruling party, both of which refused to lift a finger towards acknowledging or solving Coptic grievances, and sufficed by announcing there was no difference between Copts and Muslims. In view of which something had to be done to keep the Coptic cause in the light—whether at home with our partners in the homeland or abroad with other Egyptians and non-Egyptians—without giving up on our convictions. We did not fall prey to the rabid condemnation campaigns in our media and streets against any convention which plans to discuss our citizenship rights, since these merely aim at bringing us to our knees, to surrender and patiently await a solution—nonetheless not on the horizon—to our problems.
Thus was my decision taken to participate in the Washington conference on citizenship rights scheduled for next week.