Problems on hold

On the Shura elections

Youssef Sidhom

Reports on last week’s Shura Council (the Consultative Council, the upper house of Egypt’s Parliament) mid-term elections diverged so widely, that it would appear as though the elections were being covered in different countries.

Headlines of government affiliated newspapers hailed the climate of peace and transparency under which the elections were held, only interrupted by two incidents: one man was killed in Sharqiya and another injured in Gharbiya. Independent newspapers, by contrast, released a spate of reports on violence and irregularities that marred the elections, and rights NGOs which monitored the elections registered a host of violations.

It is obvious we are back to square one. The recent amendments to the Constitution and the following promulgation of a new law on exercising political rights proved to be of no real substance. Once the battle for votes began, competitors lost their minds, totally disregarded their previously declared principles, and used whatever means at hand to win.

Amendments to the Constitution have proved meaningless, just as citizenship rights concepts proved non-existent in light of the recent spate of sectarian violence against Copts in Bemha, Uleiqat, Zawyet Abdel-Qader, and Saft Meidum. The long-awaited unified law for places of worship was postponed by Parliament to its round of next autumn. The last elections— as illustrated by the facts and testimonies—were a shocking eye-opener.

Ezzat Aziz Habib, lawyer at the Court of Appeals and the State Council says: “I was distressed when I heard that, once Victor Wahib Fam, a Copt from Fayoum, decided to run in the elections, the governor and administrative and security officials spared no effort to urge him to withdraw his nomination.

I realised then that sectarianism is so deeply entrenched in our community, and that principles of citizenship and human rights carry no weight whatsoever. Instead of encouraging Fam to play a role in public life—especially given that Copts are commonly accused of apathy— security officials told him he had no chance of winning because he would secure no more than 10 per cent of votes.

Do Copts run elections to represent Copts alone? Security officials—who pretend to be unbiased regarding the electoral process— usually pressure and intimidate Copts who run against Muslims, as well as independent or opposition candidates who run against rivals from the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP).

If Fam’s claim that the State security apparatus contacted the Church to pressure him into withdrawing is indeed true, then a plethora of issues that have long been placed on hold need to be candidly addressed. Yet the incident is not the first of its kind. In the 2005 legislative elections, the Coptic candidate Maher Khella in Alexandria was subjected to massive pressure to withdraw from running following the sectarian violence in Muharram Bey district.

It was then claimed that it was unacceptable for a Copt to run against Muslims. The hypothesis reveals defective thought which, if generalised, would deal a fatal blow to freedom and citizenship rights, since it obviously pre-supposes that religion takes precedence over citizenship. Consequently, Muslims’ rights outstrip those of Copts. The seeds of sectarian division take root, and Egypt reaps the bitter harvest.

Why should a Coptic nominee be intimidated to withdraw from running on claims that his candidacy would jeopardise his constituency’s stability? What turbulence or chaos could result from a Copts’ nomination in the elections? Why are Coptic candidates intimidated, along with their families, to bow to pressure and withdraw?

Within the context of such a dismal climate, Copts find themselves between a rock and a hard place, between the NDP and the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. What renders the entire situation utterly absurd is the tacit promise that Coptic candidates who succumb will be rewarded in the 2010 elections by being placed on the NDP lists. Does such a promise carry any credibility within the current climate of sectarianism?

To all who accuse Copts of passivity, I say: where are citizenship rights in Egypt? What exactly is the positive role required of Copts? Is it that of accepting the official policies of exclusion or the theatrical reconciliation sessions following incident sectarian violence? Do not Copts vote for Muslims? When would the day come when Muslims may vote for Copts?


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