Only a few hours remain for us to say goodbye to 2006 and welcome in 2007. This is a good time to call oneself, society, the homeland and the world to account. As one plays back then fast-forwards through 2006, a plethora of files come into perspective; some have been closed while others remain for the upcoming year to seek unmet objectives.
An important file concerns the modernisation of Egypt and is far from being closed. Egypt’s modernisation rests on three pillars: the civil State, democracy, and full citizenship rights.
The civil State can only materialise through separation of religion from politics, scientific research, and creativity. As for democracy, a precious popular hope, it can only be attained through fair representation of society’s different sectors, minorities, and marginalised groups, all of whom live in fear that democracy would only herald in oppression by the majority. Full citizenship rights entail equality of all in rights and duties, so that no one is discriminated against because of sex, race or religion. The fact that 80 per cent of Egyptian eligible voters have refrained from casting their ballots indicates an imperative need for pluralism, with new modes of thought, scopes of action, and perspectives, to draw the silent majority out of its apathy.
The longed-for reform pre-requires restraining the sweeping power of the security apparatus, which has managed to make a police State out of Egypt. Hence the major importance of abrogating the emergency law and curbing the power of the security apparatus through holding its members accountable for their deeds. A case in point is that of the village of Udeisat in Luxor, when a mob attacked the church and property of Copts last January, amid security disregard—even collaboration. The bombing of Dahab last April prompted the police to inflict collective punishment on south Sinai’s residents, through wide detentions and major abuse.
Moreover, the attack on three Alexandria churches, for which police blamed a mentally deranged man, exposed the dreadful security inadequacy and rise of extremist tides especially within the belt of shanty areas south of the city. This file in particular has to wait till next year, since the report by the parliamentary fact-finding committee is not yet out. It is a shame that many parties attempted to close the file altogether, and the fact-finding committee never visited Alexandria but only held a few meetings in Cairo that ended up in nothing.
Two more sorry incidents indicate the police character of the State. The first was the atrocious treatment of a man at the hands of the police at a checkpoint near Zafarana. The Interior Minister hastened to refer the police officer in charge to a military court, though we have to wait and see the end of the episode. The second was the legal reasoning acquitting the defendant in the Beni-Mazar murders—where ten people were killed and decapitated—and condemning his torture and forced confession at the hands of the police.
Many Christians faced problems with the civil register while applying for computerised birth certificates and ID cards, with too many errors in citing applicants’ names, sex, or religion. The civil register took quick action to correct the complaints we reported in Watani, but there is yet a long queue of complaints waiting to be addressed. One error though closed tragically; a man ended up serving a six-month prison sentence for insisting he was Christian while the civil register accused him of forging papers to deny he had once converted to Islam.
Security control over Christian places of worship remains among the worst of Copts’ grievances, despite the presidential decrees facilitating the restoration and renovation of already existing churches. It is to be hoped that 2007 would witness the birth of a unified law of places of worship, to break the security grip over Copts’ places of worship and attain equal rights to Muslims in this regard.
The unilateral decision of the Interior Ministry last October to cancel the advice and guidance sessions, usually held when an Egyptian decides to change his or her religion, disillusioned many Copts. These sessions, attended by a clergyman and family members, were held to ensure the sincerity of the decision and check it was not taken under duress. Since the ministry shows no signs of reneging on its decision, it may be a good idea to assign an independent body such as the National Council for Human Rights the role of verifying cases of changing faith.
The sinking of al-Salam ferry and the spate of train crashes were 2006 tragedies that cannot be overlooked. They exposed entrenched corruption, and services which require comprehensive overhauls.
Two other sorrowful events, albeit of a different kind, warrant mention. The first was the crisis triggered by the Culture Minister’s opinion against the Islamic veil, which led to a fight between him and MPs from both the opposition and the ruling National Democratic Party. The second was the military style drill—widely regarded as a show-of-force—held by Muslim Brotherhood students at al-Azhar University. It is fortunate however that the two crises were swiftly contained.
Despite the generally bleak picture, the achievement made on the economic front, as proved by statistics, remains a bright spot. Such success has yet to materialise into new job opportunities and lower prices, but there are great hopes that people would soon enjoy the fruits of economic reform, a precondition for political and human rights reform.
We cannot approach 2007 without hoping that it might bring peace and prosperity to our homeland. Wishing everybody a Happy New Year.