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Egypt’s excluded minorities push for a better deal

By Sarah Birke

ICC Note:

“As the new Egypt takes shape, activists are voicing concerns about who will be included in the power structure and who will be left out,” The National reports.

3/8/2011 Egypt (The National) – As the new Egypt takes shape, activists are voicing concerns about who will be included in the power structure and who will be left out.

Groups traditionally lacking influence in Egyptian politics include women and the shrinking number of Christians, who make up only 10 per cent of the population.

But the disenfranchised also include Nubians, Bedouins, Berbers, the Dom and Beja peoples, and rural communities far from urban hubs of power. Coptics, Egypt’s largest Christian group, as well as Bahais and other non-Muslim groups are also now seeking to have more say in how the country is run.

Last week the Egyptian Coalition for Civic Education and Women’s Participation, made up of more than 100 non-governmental organisations, denounced initial amendments proposed to Egypt’s constitution, saying the planned changes exclude women candidates from presidential elections.

That came after criticism, including from the US government, on the make-up of the committee that drafted the reforms. The panel did not include a woman or a Copt.

Yousuf Sidhum, the editor of the weekly Coptic newspaper Al Watani, said: “School books are a good example of how discrimination is fostered. Many of the books promote ideas that Islam is the only religion and these attitudes carry through into society.”

Similarly, Copts have long complained of discrimination in the law and that the government plays a role in stoking religious tensions.

Mr Sidhum said: “The biggest grievances for the community have been Article 2 of the constitution which provides for an influence of Sharia law, and the difficult process of getting permission to build and maintain a place of worship. This is harder not just for Copts, but other minority religious groups too.”

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