“Where there is inclusivity, there is justice.” So said Hoda Awad, professor of political science and mass communication at Misr International University, as she was addressing a session of the annual conference organised by the Centre for Arab-West Understanding, an Egyptian non-governmental organisation that promotes dialogue between Christian and Muslim communities in Egypt, the Arab world, and the West.
At this week’s conference Awad explained that inclusive citizenship is a form of direct citizenship in which citizens participate in policy decisions in their country regardless of gender, race, or religion.
According to Awad, Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution, which states that the main religion of Egypt is Islam and Islamic Sharia is the basis of legislation, poses a major challenge to inclusive citizenship for Egypt’s Copts. It is partially offset by Article 3 which allows Copts to govern themselves in terms of personal status provisions, and to choose their own religious leaders, though she argued this does not solve the systemic division that a non-secular legal system creates.
The conversation also addressed the status of Muslims living in the West as a minority, and their struggles with inclusive citizenship.
“Muslims vote less in Western societies because they view their votes as valueless. No matter who they vote for they won’t have someone like them represent them in government,” said Wael Farouk, professor of Arabic language at the Catholic University of the Sacred Heart in Italy. While it can be argued that Copts have experienced a similar dilemma for decades, Awad argues that times are changing and Copts are playing a greater role. As evidence she pointed to President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi appointing Nabila Makram and Manal Mikhail, both Copts, as the minister of immigration and governor of Damietta, respectively.
The webinar also addressed the issue of how some Copts emigrate to Western societies in search of political representation, and protection from possible discrimination and terrorism.
“It is a religious obligation to protect other religions,” said Tarek Al-Gohari, an Azharite advisor to Sheikh Ali Gomaa. Pointing out that Christian communities predate the arrival of Islam to Egypt, Al-Gohari argued that religious communities should identify a common goal or project as a way to promote the practice of inclusive citizenship.
“It is important for religious leaders to educate their communities about the non-violent nature of religion and about co-existing with other communities,” urged Bishop Yohanna Qulta of the Coptic Catholic Church.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 1 October, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.