Rule of law crucial to honoring Egyptians’ equal rights
Egypt has lately seen the appointment of a large number of Coptic officials, the most recent being the naming of Manal Mikhail as governor of Damietta province and Kamal Sharobeem as governor of Dakahlia. These appointments were made hours after a meeting between President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and Pope Tawadros II, in which El-Sisi emphasized Egypt’s pride in its social fabric, which unites the nation.
But has the rule of law, which is a way out of all crises — including citizenship — been achieved? The answer is presented by the historical narrative of the crisis in Egypt.
The clearest, most important message that all Egyptians were keen to deliver to the imperialist power occupying their country during the 1919 revolution was the union of Egypt’s people. Therefore, their slogan was: “Long live the crescent and the cross.”
And, during the most liberal periods of the 1940s and 1950s, citizenship and the rule of law were the building blocks on which the state was founded. The Egyptian fabric remained strong and unified, and appointments were made on the basis of competence, without racial or religious discrimination.
The Egyptian state often appointed Coptic ministers, including Makram Ebeid and Boutros Boutros-Ghali. Egypt even had Coptic prime ministers three times — Nubar Pasha, Boutros Ghali and Youssef Wahba Pasha. However, according to an article by historian and writer Sulaiman Shafik, entitled “Ministers yes… conservatives no,” only two Coptic governors were appointed between 1953 and 2013. One was Gen. Fouad Aziz Ghali, who was named governor of Southern Sinai in 1980 after he led the governorate’s liberation, while the other was Majdi Ayyub, who was named governor of Qina in 2006.
Another Copt, Adli Mikhail, was appointed governor of Qina after the Jan. 25 Revolution, but the riots protesting his appointment forced him to resign before officially assuming office. It was discovered that those who carried out the riots were Salafist groups.
The Copts faced a major crisis when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power. Even though several officials stated that the Copts would have a share of every government cake, their actions proved otherwise. The June 30 revolution soon arrived and exposed the Muslim Brotherhood's true face — the party’s supporters burned several Coptic institutions and churches and killed many Copts, ensuring that the Egyptian state was in danger of falling prey to the extremism of an irrational organization.
However, sectarian crises still occur, including in the last few days in Minya province. There had been rumors concerning the legislation of a church in the village of Demshaw Hashem, leading extremists to attack and burn the houses of many Copts. Before that, other attacks were carried out in Ezbet Sultan.
The most violent attack, however, targeted the Church of Al-Amir Tadros (Prince Tadros) in Giza's Kafr Al-Waselin last December, following rumors that the church intended to install bells. Hundreds of people gathered outside the church after Friday prayers and chanted hostile slogans, demanding the demolition of the church. The rioters stormed the church and destroyed everything inside after beating the Christians they found there.
What has happened in these areas are crimes resulting from the ideologies of hatred, which have been penetrating society for years. To achieve political and financial gains at the expense of social peace, religious and political movements have been inciting people to hate each other. More importantly, this is a sign of the absence of the rule of law. If that concept was prevailing, the situation would have been different. The law alone must have power.
Another crucial concept here is “citizenship,” which has too often been violated by some parties, while others fail to realize its importance.
The Egyptian constitution was amended in 2007, and its Article 1 stipulates that: “The Arab Republic of Egypt is a democratic state based on citizenship.” The application of the concept of citizenship as a fact of life has, however, been hampered by the absence of the rule of law.
Including one or more Coptic officials in the government is not an act of kindness shown by one party or opponent toward the other. Bringing religion into this matter means disposing of the concept of equality among citizens. The correct concept of citizenship means the adoption of objective criteria for appointing officials, and religion is not one of them.
The Egyptian state has constitutional and legal rules that guarantee the implementation of the concepts of citizenship and equality. The decisive criterion here, however, is the implementation of these constitutional foundations and laws, as opposed to being satisfied with their mere existence. The rule of law does not imply that the state possesses rules but that it is capable of implementing them.
- Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide. Twitter: @ALMenawy