Egypt MPs disagree on status of Coptic Christians in draft elections law

Ahram Online , Sunday 6 Jan 2013

Some members of Shura Council call for inclusion of at least one Coptic candidate in each party's electoral list; others, however, say move would only deepen sectarian divide

Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi delivers a speech to the Shura Council, or upper house of parliamen
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi delivers a speech to the Shura Council, or upper house of parliament, in December 29, 2012. (Photo by Reuters)

Members of the committee for legislative and constitutional affairs in Egypt's Shura Council (the upper, consultative house of parliament) voiced disagreement in a Sunday session over the legal status of Coptic Christians in a proposed elections law.

MP Mamdouh Ramzy, appointed to the Shura Council by President Mohamed Morsi last month, suggested that Egypt implement the "Christian seat" model – as do Jordan, Lebanon and Syria – in the proposed legislation. 

Ramzy said that the system was utilised in the Arab world, in which the percentage of Christians is fairly small in relation to total national populations. 

He pointed out the improbability of Egyptian Copts winning seats in parliamentary polls. Therefore, according to Ramzy, having a seat set aside for Christian candidates in each party's candidate list would allow for at least one Coptic representative in each constituency. 

MP Osama Fikry of the Salafist Nour Party disagreed with Ramzy, however, saying that this system would only serve to "deepen divides between Muslims and Christians."

Fikry called for leaving the issue up to the public to decide at the ballot box and to not impose the system on Egyptian political parties.

MP Ramy Lakah, for his part, a Christian businessman, rejected the notion that certain parties – such as the Free Egyptians and others – act as "custodians to the Copts." 

There should be Coptic members of parliament chosen by both Egypt's Muslims and Christians, according to Lakah. He added that the minimum number of Coptic representatives should be set by the parties themselves. 

The committee also discussed other disputed articles in the draft elections law, including the role of female candidates. The proposed law, issued last week, states that all parties should include at least one female candidate on the first half of their candidate lists. 

Committee head Mohamed Toson faced challenges from several other committee members when discussing the issue, which the latter saw as a kind of "quota" for female representatives, which, when implemented by the former regime, had not proven particularly successful.

Toson also addressed one of the criticisms of the law put forward by opposition groups and parties, especially the umbrella National Salvation Front, concerning the size of constituencies.

Toson said that recommendations in this regard required "a lot of time" and that the Shura Council was bound by a certain time constraints to send the proposed law to the High Constitutional Court, which would soon either approve or reject the draft legislation. He went on to stress that the issue would be discussed in parliament after MPs were elected in upcoming legislative polls.

Under Egypt's new constitution, approved late last month, legislative authority was transferred from the presidency to the Shura Council pending election of members of a new House of Representatives. The council is expected to endorse the new electoral law this month, paving the way for fresh parliamentary polls in two months' time.

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