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Four years on: Have we made any progress in sectarian issues in Egypt?

Ziad Bahaa-Eldin , Tuesday 6 Jan 2015
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Views: 2606

As Egyptian churches celebrate the Christmas mass tonight, we ought to reflect on the status of Copts and other Egyptian Christians and the progress made toward equality and non-discrimination over the last four years.

Egyptian Christians joined the January revolution to express their rejection of social oppression and corruption and to demand justice, freedom, and equality. This grew into an unprecedented engagement with politics and participation in elections on a national, not sectarian, basis. Then came the shock of Brotherhood and Salafi victories and their control of parliament and the presidency, which nascent civil parties proved unable to counter. This gave way to a period of wariness, then anger and protest, ending once more in widespread participation in the revolt against Brotherhood rule, after the Brothers demonstrated their insularity and clannishness, imposed a religious constitution, and sought to change the identity of the state. Copts paid a high price throughout these years in deaths and injuries, torched churches, and displaced families, while political actors jockeyed for power. It’s not surprising, then, that as the new state consolidated its rule, political interest and participation would decline—true of both Muslims and Christians—to be replaced by support for the current regime and anticipation of the promised return of security, stability, and economic growth.

How did citizenship and equality fare throughout all this?

Inarguably many gains were made in this period, in part due to Christian political participation and the claiming of their rights. The Brotherhood constitution was supplanted by a new charter—written with the participation of the major Egyptian churches—restoring the civil character of the state, and the current government includes three Coptic ministers. In addition, the new constitution has clear provisions upholding equality, non-discrimination, and freedom of belief, and gives Christians at least 24 seats in the coming parliament.
But despite these significant constitutional gains, Egypt continues to face substantial sectarian challenges on the political, social, and cultural levels.

There is little chance that Christian candidates will win parliamentary seats apart from the constitutional quota, they are unlikely to head sovereign ministries, and only few senior positions in the state bureaucracy will be open for them. The construction and repair of churches is still subject to restrictions under Ottoman-era laws, and there is still no law prohibiting religious discrimination. In short, Christians enjoy numerous and important constitutional rights and benefits, but they are contained within strict sectarian borders that cannot be overstepped; and these serve to regulate sectarianism in society rather than overcome it.

On the social and cultural front, society is still divided along clear, deep-seated sectarian lines into nearly separate worlds: private kindergartens and schools, doctors and clinics, jobs, and even grocers, barbers, and pharmacists—all of them segregated by sect. Egyptian youth meet their peers from other religious communities only in public schools and hospitals, during military service, and in the civil service. It is only in the public sector that the opportunity for a shared existence presents itself. In the private world, an invisible barrier divides the two parts of the nation, while ignorance of the other feeds extremism, bigotry, and discrimination.

So how can we defeat sectarianism and build a society where justice and equality prevail?

This is possible only by continuing the path begun on January 25, 2011, when both Christians and Muslims championed a national, non-sectarian reformist agenda based on justice, freedom, and equality rather than a confessional quota system. We must also realize that the decline in political and party participation and a reliance on sectarian solutions cannot build a state based on citizenship, but can only further entrench sectarianism in society and public life.

The constitutional and legal gains made thus far are no small thing, but the challenge today is to not stop there. We must build on these gains by passing an anti-discrimination law (particularly religious discrimination), providing equal job opportunities in the public and private sectors, regulating the construction and renovation of houses of worship, and encouraging civic associations and educational institutions to strive for Christian-Muslim rapprochement and coexistence. We must realize that political, partisan, and union activity is necessary to build bridges between citizens to bring them together on social issues that go beyond their sectarian enclaves. It is the responsibility of the state and political forces to foster this and take a clear stance against sectarianism and discrimination whatever the short-term electoral or popular cost.

Today’s challenge for us, Muslims and Christian seeking to build a genuine civil state, is to not rest on the constitutional advances, but to cling to the dream of a new society that rejects sectarianism and moves forward toward full citizenship, equality, and non-discrimination.

With well wishes for Egypt and all Egyptians on the Prophet’s birthday, Christmas, and the New Year. 

Ziad Bahaa ElDin holds a PhD in financial law from the London School of Economics. He is a former deputy prime minister, former chairman of the Egyptian Financial Supervisory Authority and former chairman of the General Authority for Investments.

This article was published in Arabic in El-Shorouq newspaper on Tuesday 6 January.

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Neo
11-01-2015 05:09pm
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Mr. Amin, I respectfully disagree …
First, the Holy books of the 3 religions didn’t change, what it did and should is People behavior and application of these books over time. Take the killing over cartoons of the Profit as an example, the Photos and drawings of humans were not allowed 1500 years ago in Islam for fear of going back to Paganism (Saudi before Islam), what is the relevance of it in now is this day and age? Second, we can’t say Christianity and Judaism are man-made, when there are hundreds of reference to them in the Koran; we can’t be selective in taking the Koran. Finally, every religion, and non-religion has extremists; primality disenfranchised youth with limited prospects, my point was our Muslim Youth has been neglected for many decades with no jobs or prospects, because of our futile governments, and thus, are acting more violently than others.
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Neo
17-01-2015 12:03am
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401+
Overpopulation is an issue, but ...
Allen, If overpopulation is the main issue, we would find China, India, and Brazil, who are much more populous; in worse economic conditions than Egypt. The main reason they aren’t despite the overpopulation is a SMART governments. YES Egypt needs to balance its birth rate with its resources, no disagreement here, but this is the absence of PLANNING; governments are in charge of. Egypt was only 40m people not long ago, was it prosperous then? No …
Allen
14-01-2015 08:15pm
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Passing the blame to the government.
You can't keep on passing the blame to successive incompetent governments alone. Egypt like similar African and South American nations has an insane human reproduction rate. A multitude of families have multiple children assuming the government will feed them educate them and find jobs for them. It does not work that way it has not worked that way for centuries. So these excessive numbers are running to the west hopping OTHER governments will take care of them.
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Ahmed Amin
10-01-2015 01:19pm
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This is the difference between Islam and other man-made faiths
Neo wrote: " I am sad to say that Christians and Jews moved on with time, and adapted the 2000-year-old callings to the 21st century, while most, not all, Muslim still believe literally in the original callings." Well, Neo a religious scripture than can be changed every generation is not worth keeping. This is the fifference between Islam and other religions. Besides, you are mostly wrong about your assumptions. Talmudic Judaism is still prevaling among most Jews in Israel. Most Jewish rabbis still believe that non-Jews are not bona fide human vbeings.
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5



Ahmed Amin
10-01-2015 01:19pm
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5+
This is the difference between Islam and other man-made faiths
Neo wrote: " I am sad to say that Christians and Jews moved on with time, and adapted the 2000-year-old callings to the 21st century, while most, not all, Muslim still believe literally in the original callings." Well, Neo a religious scripture than can be changed every generation is not worth keeping. This is the fifference between Islam and other religions. Besides, you are mostly wrong about your assumptions. Talmudic Judaism is still prevaling among most Jews in Israel. Most Jewish rabbis still believe that non-Jews are not bona fide human vbeings.
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4



Michael Abdul Masih
09-01-2015 02:15pm
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Criminal Church
The Coptic Church stood with all its weight behind the criminal coup. This is a big issue that will continue to haunt the conscience of Christians in Egypt for many years to come.
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3



SAWSAN MOSTAFA ALI
09-01-2015 12:42pm
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TO THE CHIEF EDITOR
I HAVE SENT A COMMENT 3 DAYS AGO BEFORE ALL THE COMMENTS PUBLISHED HERE BUT MY COMMENT WAS NOT PUBLISHED AND I DO NOT KNOW WHY --------ALSO I SENT AT THE SAME DAY A COMMENT ON THE NEWS OF HAVING PRESIDENT SISI VISITING THE XMAS PRAYERS BUT ALSO WAS NOT PUBLISHED ----I FEEL NOT WELCOMED HERE AND I DO NOT KNOW THE REASON BEHIND THIS. I AM ANGRY WITH YOU AS SHOULD BE CLEAR PRINCIPLES THAT CONTROL PUBLISHING AND BANNING ANY COMMENT.
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2



Sam Enslow
07-01-2015 04:09pm
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Acceptance
' Christian, Jew, Muslim' Zoroastrian, stone' ground' mountain' river, each has a secret way of being with the mystery and not to be judged.' ---Jalal all Din Muhammad Rum I. Until each faith accepts others, the messages of all faiths will be lost. Copts are not innocents in the sectarian hatreds of Egypt. President al-Sisi's visit for Christmas was but a step. Real progress will happen when village clerics start to work together to end long standing prejudices. Time for all to start thinking about what we are doing right rather than what the other is doing wrong. We need too to stop believing what we believe is what God believes. Holy books may be divinely inspired or dictated, but they are read by imperfect human eyes. If it was the Will of God that all believe and act the same, we would. Sometimes it is best to admit we do not have total understanding if God, no matter how we understand the term. We need to, 'Do onto others as you would have them do unto you.'
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1



Neo
07-01-2015 03:06am
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The answer is unfortunately … No
Sectarian divide is routed in all societies, developed (UK; Catholics/Protestants) and developing (Egypt), it’s a human illness we could not cure. What we can do however is develop Tolerance for all religions, sects, and faith. As soon as we, Egyptian Muslims, accept the fact that we don’t have a monopoly on God, and our Friday Imams stop the lunacy that all none-Muslims will go to hell, perhaps we can make a good start.
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M Omsrii
13-01-2015 12:54pm
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Furthermore "Edward"
Even the afterlife is a new concept to Judaism imported from the conquering Greeks. before you repeat the vomit spewed by your average Imam, check your facts. even Wikopedia is better than nothing.
M omsri
11-01-2015 12:23am
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Complete twaddle, "edward"
There is no concept of hell in judaism. This was invented by christianity then repeated in Islam. There is only life after death and eventually judgement day.
Sam Enslow
10-01-2015 07:48pm
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Reply to Edward
Few if us live lives representing the best of what religion has to offer. If we did, this discussion would not be necessary. In most, if not all religions, there is not agreement as to what the religion teaches. The Salafi do not agree with the Sufi, Catholic disagrees with Protestant. We spend so much time arguing about the Nature of the Messengers that we forget the message.
Neo
09-01-2015 04:28pm
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Mr. Edward has a point
Philosophically, you are right sir, every religion has within it the notion that it’s the ultimate way to salvation, and all holly books have this clearly stated. However, I am sad to say that Christians and Jews moved on with time, and adapted the 2000-year-old callings to the 21st century, while most, not all, Muslim still believe literally in the original callings. Furthermore, our youth is far less educated and prosperous, as a result, they tend to act violently on these callings than other youth.
Sawsan Mostafa Ali
09-01-2015 12:38pm
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TO EDWARD
WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN IS RIGHT.
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Sawsan Mostafa Ali
09-01-2015 12:38pm
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TO EDWARD
WHAT YOU HAVE WRITTEN IS RIGHT.
Aly Sadek -Toronto-Canada
07-01-2015 07:23pm
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Egypt..
VERY WELL SAID.......VERY WELL EXPLAINED.......CONGRATS.
Edward
07-01-2015 04:29pm
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Islam is more tolerant than both Christianity and Judaism
Neo, all Christians believe non-Christians will go to hell. And all Jews believe non-Jews will go to hell.In fact, Muslims enjoy an advantage over Christianity and Judaism.Islam recognizes the legitimacy of Judaism, but Judaism doesn;t recognize Islam as legitimate. Islam likewise recognizes Christianity but Christianity refuses to recognize Islam as legitimate. Muslims love Christ, but many Christians curse Muhammed.
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