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Luring Copts into politics

ICC Note

Egyptian Copts are encouraged to participate in the country’s politics in order to improve their freedom of religion. Scholars argued that failure of large number of Copts to take part in elections is hurting their interest.

By Ishaq Ibrahim

January 20, 2008 Egypt (U.S Copts Association)- …

Voting base

Abdel-Moniem Saïd of al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, chaired the session and argued that society could not be viewed as democratic without the representation of different social groups. Copts, as a religious group, were no longer elected to the Parliament, with the government countering by appointing a certain number of Copts to the ++Shura++ (Consultative) Council, the upper house of the Egyptian Parliament. The move is of necessarily doubtful legitimacy. Dr Saïd attributed the suffering of Copts to the discriminative policies adopted by the Egyptian State , the ascendance of political Islam and the rise of public fanaticism. As for patterns of resistance, he said: “In light of the existing low voter turnout, if the million Coptic voters decide to cast their ballots the Copts’ status in Parliament will most likely improve.”

Mounir Fakhri Abdel-Nour, a Coptic politician and deputy to the head of the Wafd political party, attributed the Copts’ weak representation in legislative bodies to the attitude of the Copts themselves. “Copts are part of the problem, he said, since they refrain from playing a role in electoral constituencies in cities and villages,” he said. “This is a situation that has made it difficult for political parties to nominate Copts, and made it even more difficult for a candidate in a Coptic-majority constituency to be sure of winning.” Contributing to the phenomenon was the culture of division based upon religion, introduced to Egypt from outside [the Arabian Peninsula ], he added.

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Better than the Muslim Brotherhood?

“The Egyptian regime excludes all groups, Coptic and Muslim alike,” said Osama al-Ghazali Harb, Shura Council member and deputy head of the Democratic Front party. “Backed by the help of security apparatuses, a tiny group dominates the political scene. Such a situation undermines the values of tolerance and secularism,” he said. Dr Harb criticised the common practice of Copts being more active on the economic rather than on the political front, saying this promoted sectarianism and supported fanatic claims that Copts controlled 30 per cent of the nation’s wealth. By the same token, he criticised the Copts’ inclination to support the ruling National Democratic Party under the pretext that it was better than the Muslim Brotherhood, since it turned Copts into supporters of the authoritarian regime. However, he expressed optimism for the future of Egypt in light of the remarkable state of positive actions—including sit-ins and demonstrations—taken by members of the public seeking to claim their rights.

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Deep rooted

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Even so, Ahmed argued that discrimination has really deep cultural roots. “There is a long heritage of Coptic isolation in Egyptian society which led to a separation between Muslims and Copts….great effort is needed to bridge the gap between the two groups and bring Copts back to their society’.

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Can the situation improve? MP Mustafa al-Feqi argued that the fairer and freer elections were, the more Copts would be represented in legislative bodies. He stressed the significance of opening a free dialogue on the issue of discrimination against Copts.

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