By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: The Forum of Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations (FIEHRO) sent a memorandum to Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif on Tuesday requesting the formation of a committee to implement constitutional provisions that guarantee Egyptians’ right to citizenship and equality.
In the memo, the FIEHRO called for the representation of minority groups in the committee, such as Copts, Shias, Baha’is, Nubians, and Sinai Bedouins — along with representatives from human rights organizations — to voice their concerns.
“The memo, signed by 14 rights groups, aims to encourage official state efforts to address the sectarian crises that pose a real threat to the coexistence of Muslims and Copts [in Egypt],” read a statement issued by the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies on Wednesday.
“A clear departure must be made from the current sectarian climate, which is increasingly stoking hatred, bigotry, and religious extremism,” the statement added.
The FIEHRO stated that the committee’s responsibilities should include drafting bills that promote equality and prevent discrimination, monitoring the implementation of equality in the political arena and public institutions, and building and restoring houses of worship — especially churches.
The committee should also assess and monitor the performance of authorities and security forces when dealing with incidents of sectarian tension and violence.
The memo added that “arbitrary security interference” in the freedom of religious belief must end, stressing the state’s duty to protect all citizens in their right to worship and in dealing transparently with issue of religious conversion.
“All forms of harassment and pressure brought [against] people because of their religion or belief must end,” the statement said.
Minister of Social Solidarity Ali Moselhi announced during a press conference on Sunday that a ministerial committee, headed by Nazif, had been formed to discuss the concept of citizenship.
He added that the committee would review all the laws guiding the principle of citizenship in order to guarantee equal rights and social justice for all Egyptians as a way to ease sectarian tensions following the Jan. 1 bombing in front of Al-Qeddesine Church (The Church of the Two Saints) in Alexandria.
“We consider [Moselhi’s] announcement a first step towards addressing the sectarian problem in Egypt,” Head of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights Hossam Bahgat told Daily News Egypt. “The memo proposes practical guidelines in implementing the principles of equality and citizenship.
“Sectarian tension is not defused through announcing the formation of committees,” Bahgat added. “It’s defused through taking certain procedures on the ground, like we [the FIEHRO] explained in the memo. We want a committee that monitors the media and governmental institutions in addressing sectarian issues.”
The committee would be required to review and develop the education curriculum in order to promote equality and tolerance among all religions, and to monitor the media in addressing sectarian incidents, according to the memo.
The FIEHRO called on the government to stop exploiting religious institutions in the political arena and encouraged them “to produce modern religious discourses that reject religious exclusion, extremism, and hatred, and [to] promote enlightenment and moderation.”
The FIEHRO stated that the state’s only hope in ending sectarian tensions is strengthening the pillars of a civil state.
Researcher at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies Emad Gad agreed, though he was skeptical over whether or not the government sincerely wants to make Egypt a civil state.
“Even if they do, it would take maybe 20 or 30 years to achieve that,” Gad told Daily News Egypt. “But I believe that we have no other option now to ease the sectarian tension.
“Issuing a law that criminalizes discrimination — in addition to implementing the requests listed in the memo as a starting point to turning this state into a civil [one] — will help decrease sectarian tensions a great deal,” Gad added.
Sectarian tensions have surged in Egypt recently, where Copts — comprising about 10 percent of Egypt’s total population of 80 million — have become the focus of various sectarian crimes.
The attack in front of Al-Qeddesine, which left 23 dead and more than 90 injured, was the worst violence committed against Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority in over a decade. The incident sparked violent clashes between Christians, Muslims, and riot police.
The government was widely accused of using violence and groundless arrests to simply contain the situation instead of addressing the root causes of Egypt’s sectarian tension.