Egyptian experts address minority rights in Brotherhood era

Nada El-Kouny, Monday 1 Apr 2013

Coptic, Nubian and Shiite Egyptians discussed the problems they are currently facing, ranging from discrimination in the workplace to legal inequalities

Speakers at conference including Osama Ghazali Harb (C) addressing minority rights and citizenship under Muslim Brotherhood rule (Photo: Al Ahram)

A number of political figures and researchers came together on Sunday for a two-day conference in Cairo organised by the Middle East Forum for Civil Liberties, to discuss the topic of citizenship and minorities in Egypt under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

A number of the topics were addressed, including religious freedom and discrimination, minority rights, and the economic situation of minorities under the current Muslim Brotherhood government.

The majority of the conference was focused on the issue of Egyptian Coptic Christians under the government of President Mohamed Morsi, who hails from the Brotherhood.

Notable speakers at the conference included Head of the Democratic Front Party Osama El-Ghazali Harb and Egyptian Social Democratic Party founding member Emad Gad. Dozens of academics, researchers, Coptic activists and media figures were also in attendance.

Writer and researcher specialising in Coptic rights Suleiman Shafiq asserted that discrimination is not necessarily the key issue, but rather the increasing lack of legal action in response to violence and harmful discrimination against minority groups is problematic.

"We have also been seeing more recently an increase in the 'culture of hate' by regular citizens, which has been further spread with the lack of accountability, in addition to clear double standards."

He referred to the controversial anti-Islam film which was shared online last year and which sparked protests across the Muslim world, leaving hundreds injured.

"This is a very blatant double standard, whereby seven Coptic expatriates faced death sentences from a Cairo Criminal Court for the making of the film, while on the other hand, no one was held responsible for the Maspero massacre in October 2011 [when 28 mostly Coptic protesters were killed by security forces at a demonstration.]”

Shafiq also referred to other troubling examples, such as the forceful eviction of different Coptic communities seen in the town of Dahshour in August 2012. 

He argued that discrimination against Copts was at times sensationalised by some members of the community, for example by some Christian-oriented travel companies who were pushing for Coptic migration by highlighting issues of discrimination.

Speakers also discussed the new Egyptian constitution, which was passed in December 2012 by public referendum but faced considerable opposition from rights groups and opposition figures.

General coordinator of the Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination Kamal Megeith said that Articles 2, 3 and 4 in the new constitution were threatening to religious minorities. "Such articles entrench religious discrimination and close the door to any possible amendments," he said.  

Economist Ehab Dessouki further stressed that it is important to address the issue of minorities not in an attempt to merely call for their protection, but to also address how the inclusion of minorities can be an asset for the economic development of Egypt.

An audience member expressed her disagreement with several of the points made by economists on the issue of discrimination against Copts in the workplace, stating that there needed to be a primary focus on social justice by which all other rights would be guaranteed, eventually trickling down to religious and other minorities as well.

In regards to the other minorities in Egypt, Shiite El-Sayed Mohamed El-Dereini argued that his group was facing increasing "religious fascism" and discrimination by the state. As a result, he demanded that human rights organisations take a stand on the issue.    

Nubian rights activist and former member of the Constituent Assembly Manal El-Tibi stated that in regards to Nubians’ rights, the state only became interested in their land when they started thinking of making use of their resources.

She presented the detrimental effects of the building of the Aswan High Dam, which started in 1905, and the resettlement of many Nubian families away from their land. Many Nubians have since demanded to return close to their original homeland near Lake Nasser.

"We are calling to be recognised as indigenous people and not a minority. We have lived on this land for thousands of years and have contributed to its development in many significant ways," El-Tibi argued.

She further expressed that, as a result, many Nubians have experienced a threat to their culture at whole, as over the years, different Nubian dialects have been dying out, and "with the dying of a language, a whole culture dies as well."

The conference's discussions will be turned into a book which will be published in both English and Arabic.  

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