CAIRO: The Center of Humanitarian Dialogue held a joint lecture Sunday with the Egyptian Association for Enlightenment to discuss the Coptic vision of constitutional amendments.
There s pessimism about the future of political life in Egypt in general, political and rights activist and executive general of the Middle East Forum in Washington Magdy Khalil, said.
Khalil focused on two main issues: Copts fear of Egypt turning into a religious state; what he described a strategy that has been in place since 1952 to oppress Copts.
We demand a civil secular state, Khalil said.
He suggested an amendment of Article 2 of the constitution, which states that the official religion of Egypt is Islam and that the principles of Islam are the main source of legislation.
Three other articles emphasizing the principles of citizenship would be added.
Khalil further demanded that the constitution should state that human rights declarations should take precedence over any local law.
“Although such declarations to which Egypt is a signatory are supposed to be more binding than state laws, which is not the case in reality. This is why we must include this in the constitution.
He also called for constitutional assurances that Copts will have fair presence in representative bodies.
He said that the recent constitutional changes suggested by President Mubarak, did not improve the status of Copts.
Egypt now is a semi-religious state, Khalil said, Are you [the government] questioning the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood? Well, Article 2 gives them more legitimacy than you.
Khalil said the government can scrap this article as easily as “crossing it off with a pen , if they wanted to. But both the government and the Brotherhood are using religion to fight for power.
Khalil accused the government of using the current amendments to fight the Brotherhood not to seek Egypt s best interests.
The amendments include changes to Article 5, which prohibit any political activity based on religion, a move interpreted by analysts as targeting the Muslim Brotherhood.
Refusing the removal of Article 2, Mohammed Khalil Kwaita, an MP from the ruling National Democratic Party said it is one of the pillars of the constitution.
“The official religion of Egypt is Islam, and the principles of Sharia are the main source of legislation, he said.
Kwaita does not see Article 2 as a threat to the Coptic citizens.
Sharia insists on treating believers in a good way, whether they are Christians or Jews, unlike any other religion, he continued.
But former judge Naguib Gebrail, president of the Egyptian Alliance for Human Rights Organizations, disagrees.
He told The Daily Star Egypt in a phone interview: Those amendments added nothing new regarding Copts rights, despite the change to Article 1 which stresses the principle of citizenship. Article 2 will stand in its way.
Gebrail said Article 2 also impeded Article 46 which guarantees the freedom to choose and practice one’s religion.
In reality, this principal is one sided , he said, elaborating that it’s fine for non-Muslims to convert to Islam, but if a Muslim was to change his faith he would not be allowed to amend his legal papers.
Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated MP Hamdy Hassan commented that Article 2 is not up for amendment, but they [the Copts] have the right to demand changing it. A democratic vote will then show if the majority approves or disapproves of those demands.