Shura Council recommends stiffening penalties for terrorist acts

Gamal Essam El-Din , Tuesday 4 Jan 2011

Egypt's Shura Council urges the government to impose tougher penalties on terrorist acts and called upon Muslim clerics and Christian priests to refrain from exchanging blame

Egypt's Shura Council – the upper house parliament – devoted its Monday session to discussing the repercussions of the terrorist attack which hit Al-Qiddissine Church on Saturday. Ahead of discussions, the Shura Council issued a statement Monday morning, strongly attacking television satellite channels “which focussed on inflaming religious strife rather than exposing facts about the atrocity of the terrorist attack. These channels should stop their sensational coverage of the events and put the national interest of Egypt above all considerations,” the Shura Council statement said.

The statement also emphasised that “there is a pressing need for stiffening penalties on terrorist crimes”. The statement added that “all religious leaders who practise preaching in mosques and churches should refrain from exchanging critical statements on sensitive religious issues which hit the hearts of millions and charged them with hatred against each other.”

The statement argued that “the forces of darkness are trying their best to shake the stability and national unity of Egypt and sow the seeds of deep divisions among Muslims and Christians," and urged Coptic protesters not to attack police forces. “You are required to respect security forces because they represent the dignity and prestige of the Egyptian state,” the statement said.

In the house Monday, debate was heated over this official statement, wuith house members showing no immuninty to firing accusations over the cause of Alexandria terrorist attack.

Rifaat El-Said, leader of the leftist Tagammu Party, took the government and the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) to task for ignoring the religious needs of Copts. “For long,” El-Said charged, “the government ignored amending the unified law regulating the construction of worship places, including churches and mosques.” This, he said, has largely contributed to opening the gates of anger when the terrorist attack hit the Alexandria church.

El-Said's argument polarised Shura Council members into two camps. Chairman of Shura Council Safwat El-Sherif and Moufid Shehab, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs, strongly criticised El-Said, refusing to take the government to task for preparing the ground of the attack. El-Said and El-Sherif, along with two senior NDP officials, joined forces in stressing that “the number of churches which has been built over the thirty years of President Hosni Mubarak's rule are far greater than the number of churches that has been built since Christianity came to Egypt.” According to Shehab, “El-Said is trying to mix cards in such a critical situation and this is very bad at a time we are trying our best to heal the wounds caused by the terrorist attack.”

Another group of members, however, joined forces with El-Said, agreeing that “the government should  sympathise with the demands of the Copts and understand that their street protests were provoked not only by the terrorist attack, but rather by old grievances, one of which is refusing to amend laws aimed at facilitating the construction of churches or tightening security measures aimed at safeguarding  churches and cathedrals against terrorist acts.” Nabil Louqa Bibawi, a Coptic Shura member and businessman, said “there is also a need for putting an end to government discriminatory polices when it  comes to jobs in both public and private sector... People should be selected for jobs not because they are Muslims or Christians, but rather because they are qualified to occupy these jobs or not,” he said.

El-Said also stirred up much controversy when he cried foul that “leaflets are being circulated against Copts in the upper Egypt governorate of Al-Minya and that the government should intervene to stop this". He said: “these leaflets call upon the Muslims of Minya not to share Copts their feast on January 7.”  In response, Hamed Rashed, deputy interior minister for legal affairs, fervently rejected El-Said's “allegations”, saying that “no leaflets have been circulated against Copts in Al-Minya.”

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