Problems on hold
Why In Washington
Anyone who contemplates the flaws in Copts’ citizenship rights—starting with the right to freely build places of worship, their share of leadership and top posts in the State, and their political empowerment—will discover flagrant inequality between them and their Muslim fellow citizens. The disparity can be said to be obvious on three levels. First, on the legislative and executive level, where there is no move whatsoever in the direction of considering or tackling Coptic grievances. That is unless the president issues direct orders to resolve some given problem—which is something the content and time of which no-one can predict. Otherwise, most on this level see no Coptic problem, and those who know there are problems do not possess the courage to propose any solution. Some even justify the inertia by resorting to tranquillisers of the type: “Waiting for an adequate timing to raise the problem”, “President Mubarak has confirmed that there is no difference between Muslims and Copts”, “What do Copts want? The president has already decreed Coptic Christmas—7 January—a national holiday; he approves applications to build new churches; and there was a Coptic governor in the 1970s”. In short, there is a general conviction that Copts’ citizenship rights are confined to those which are already granted to them by the government, and there is no realisation in the first place that Copts are looking for equality.
On the second level, there are the intellectuals, writers, those concerned with public issues, human and citizenship rights, as well as some politicians. These realise well the Coptic predicament and grievances, and their curtailed rights. But this elite group—even though it possesses the reliable data on the real dimensions of the problem, a clear vision of it, and the potential to initiate a solution—has preferred to remain in the ivory tower of academia and take no action. The utmost this group has achieved on the Coptic front is participation in conferences and seminars with an absolutely ineffective discourse more suited to a condolence address. This group thus remained isolated, unable to rise with the issue to the executive level, or to stoop down with it to the street level.
Third is the level of the Egyptian street—the real challenge where citizenship rights are concerned. The ordinary Egyptian—consumed with the daily battle for subsistence; and prey to failures, frustrations and incompetence—has found refuge in the arms of the religious institutions. These either preach patience and adaptation to the situation, or spread hatred, rejection, and a culture of violence against society. The challenge to save Egyptians from the clutches of fundamentalist, extremist movements can only be met through development on all economic, social, and education levels. Only then will the concept of citizenship rights take foothold.
The picture is rather bleak. The executive authority of the State knows well but refuses to acknowledge the flaws in Coptic citizenship rights, the intellectual elite knows but cannot connect with the authorities and is above communicating with the street. The grassroots are victims of the grim economic situation and the fundamentalist currents which exploit it to their favour. Everyone appears to be content, and the issue of curtailed Coptic citizenship rights remains frozen until once in a while sectarian problems or violence erupts. Directly, flowery rhetoric, false declarations, imaginary reconciliation, hugs and kisses are recruited to anaesthetise the situation without bothering to treat the basic problem.
No matter how dismal
the situation is, we should not give in but should go on striving to correct
it. Strangely, we have that the Palestinian cause be negotiated in