Religious Discrimination Inside the Egyptian Workplace

By Claire Evans

02/20/2018 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Persecution of Christians in Egypt  continues to escalate, yet we see little in the headlines. The last year has been the bloodiest in recent history for Egyptian Christians, with the country reaching number 17 on Open Doors’ World Watch List. ICC spoke to several citizens for perspective.

Fadi, a Christian lawyer living in Cairo told us, “The Egyptian Constitution states: ‘Citizens are equal before the law and are equal in public rights and duties, without distinction as to race, origin, language, religion or creed,’ [But] the law is diminishing. The equality that is named as a law in the Constitution of Egypt disappears before Article 2 of the Constitution, which stipulates that Islamic law is the main source of legislation.”

He added, “Coptic Christians do not share in equality of citizenship in Egypt. As a matter of law, Copts remain less than full citizens in the realm of church construction, religious discrimination, and religious conversion. Whether Copts could ever share in equality of citizenship in a legal and constitutional system in which the principles of Islamic Sharia serve as the main source of legislation is questionable at best, but as applied by Egypt’s current legal system the answer is unequivocally no.”

When the legal system breaks down in equally protecting a country’s citizens regardless of religion, one of the most immediate ways in which Christians suffer is in regards to employment. Technically, employers are not legally allowed to discriminate against Christian employees. The reality, however, is that nearly every Christian has a story to tell about unfair employment practices. The loopholes described by Fadi allow no opportunity to pursue judicial recourse.

Karam, who lives and works in Cairo, can immediately think of two recent examples of workplace bias against Christians. He first points toward a new civil service law which allows Muslims one month paid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca, whereas Christians are not granted the same benefit should they wish to travel to Jerusalem. Karam then points toward a clothing store famous among Cairo locals. The store recently announced that it will only hire drivers if they know the Quran by heart, effectively prohibiting Christians from applying.

Using these two examples, Karam further explained, “We are treated as second-class citizens in every way; the only interaction we have with the government leaves us feeling like failures, and of course that makes us feel like we don’t belong. We have faced systemic discrimination in employment and limitations on our ability to access public services and education.”

Unfortunately, this represents only the tip of the iceberg. Mourad is a sales representative in Qena, a city located several hours south of Cairo. He has found that “putting religion on the identity card is the first step of discrimination.” As a result, “Copts do not get their full right to hold positions, such as in the universities, banks, or police. Copts in Egypt suffer from chronic discrimination in senior and leadership positions in the country.”

This points to an even deeper problem. If Christians aren’t given the opportunity to achieve the highest levels of leadership positions within their field of specialty, then there is no one to come to their defense when they experience discrimination and unfair workplace treatment.

When asked what the solution is, Mourad pointed to educational reforms. He said that Egypt needs the “establishment of an educational system against sectarianism, and the establishment of a movement of resistance to the wrong ideas and expression, to remove the blindness of fanaticism, to resist the seditionists and their erroneous beliefs, (all of) which pollute the ideas of the youth and spread quarrels among the sons of the nation.”

But Atef, who works as a teacher, doesn’t know how this kind of reform is possible when “there is clear discrimination against Copts in the university jobs. It is rare to find a head of department, a university professor, or university director.”

It is this kind of tension which frustrates Christians. Without strong legal protections and education, unjust workplace practices remain the norm. It has placed Egyptian Christians inside an invisible prison, trapping them within a gaping sinkhole of economic depression.

The consequences can be deadly. One only needs to remember the 20 Egyptian Christians who were beheaded by ISIS in February 2015. They were working in Libya, despite the danger, because they could not work in their own home country and they had families to provide for. Sadly, this tragedy illustrates how the normalcy of unfair employment practices in Egypt only increases the vulnerability of Christians to violent persecution.

In short, these kinds of challenges faced by Christians are a vivid reminder that, according to one Cairo pastor, “Persecution is a concept which goes beyond [the] physical suffering of a beating, imprisonment, and martyrdom.”

For interviews with Claire Evans, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: press@persecution.org

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