Egypt's opposition demands unified law for building houses of worship

Ahram Online, Friday 14 Jan 2011

Egypt's opposition parties demand that the government take the attack on the Two Saints Church seriously and work to uproot the underlying causes of current sectarian tensions

“The Protection of Citizenship and National Unity” conference, organised Thursday by a slew of the country’s opposition parties and political movements, demanded that the government create a unified law for the construction of houses of worship. The conference also called on the government to protect the right to equal citizenship, as stipulated in the first article of the Egyptian constitution.

The conference was organised in response to the New Year’s Eve attack on the Two Saints Church in Alexandria.

 Several key figures spoke during the conference, including El-Sayed-El-Badawi, chairman of the Wafd Party, Abdel Geleel Mustafa, general coordinator of the National Association for Change and Samir Morcos, a political writer and researcher – a representative of Egypt’s civil society.

The group demanded equal religious rights for all Egyptians and the establishment of an anti-discrimination law that would criminalises any form of discrimination and ensure equality in rights, duties and opportunities.

The final statement of the conference also included an appeal for the government to revise all religious curriculums and remove any discrepancies. The curriculum they insisted should teach young students the values of equal citizenship.

The statement also asked the Ministry of Religious Endowments to revise the country’s religious discourse and include a unified message of all faiths that would help unify Egyptians and eliminate escalating tensions.

Conference members also invited the Egyptian media to create a code of honour, in which it commits to avoid broadcasting messages of hate that might trigger civil tensions.

The various political parties and political movements represented in the conference also asked for the establishment of a national body that would work to protect the civil rights of citizens and monitor the indicators and triggers of civil strain.

The parties also pledged to do their best to make sure that their demands are met and to transform Egypt into a democratic civil state, ruled by law and an established constitution.

They also rejected any attempts to undermine the tragedy of the Two Saints Church. They added that the tragedy was not merely a result of the rising friction between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, but was a result of escalating social, economic and political problems. They pointed out that the problems -- starting with the burning of the Khanka Church in 1972 to the riots of Omrania in 2010 -- are due to certain governmental policies which have demonstrated a systematic failure to apply the values of equal citizenship and equal religious rights as well as disregard the need for proportionate representation of different factions in parliament.

The group also declared its belief that the growing crisis is due to high levels of unemployment and the government’s failure to alleviate the suffering of those economically and socially marginalised.

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