In an article on the plight of Egypt's Coptic community, reformist Egyptian thinker Tarek Heggy describes the discrimination against Copts, both in Egyptian society in general and in the government in particular. Heggy urges equal treatment of all Egyptians regardless of religion or gender. The article was written as a lead-up to Heggy's participation in a conference on the issue, to be held on November 16-19, 2005 in Washington, D.C.
The following are excerpts from the article:
"Yes, Copts Fear for Themselves, Their Property, and Their Safety"
"Next month, members of the Coptic community (Orthodox Christian Egyptians) and other individuals will convene in Washington, D.C. to discuss the problems facing Copts in Egypt. Despite the complete personal disagreement between myself and the individual who initiated this conference, I will put aside the personal angle in dealing with this topic… since I feel that my way of thinking and writing is above getting dragged into the kind of style known from the security services' investigations department, which [tends to] abandon the heart of the matter and pursue marginal issues related to personalities, suspicions and conspiratorial thinking.
"This security-service mentality is one of the factors that contributed to the collapse of objectivity and rationality in our thinking, and which [cause this kind of thinking] to be so far removed from objective and civilized modes of analysis which are one of the achievements of human civilization.
"The basic issue is: 'Do the Copts in Egypt suffer from serious problems in their own country?' The only possible answer is: 'Yes'.
"Yes, Copts fear for themselves, their families, their property and their safety much more than Muslims do, though the latter, too, are not completely safe."
"Yes, Copts Suffer From a Public Atmosphere of Fanaticism"
"Yes, Copts suffer from a public atmosphere of fanaticism, which is not characterized by friendliness towards them.
"Yes, Copts encounter exceptional obstacles in various stages [of their lives] - in [acquiring] education, obtaining a job and getting promotions - merely because they are Copts.
"Yes, Copts feel that, even though their qualifications exceed the average level of the Muslims (a fact that most Muslims admit), they do not hold important public offices such as district governor, deputy governor, mayor, university president, college dean, or [even] most of the secondary-level positions in the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, Ministry of the Interior, etc. Copts feel that, as soon as a Copt utters his name, which reveals his Coptic identity, he often feels a sharp decline in the degree of friendliness shown towards him."
Even Though Copts Make Up 15% of the Population, They Make Up Only 1% of the Parliament
"Yes, Copts feel that it makes no sense that, even though they constitute about one sixth (15%) of the population, Coptic MPs constitute less than one percent of the parliament. One does not need to be exceptionally bright in order to realize that this cannot be a mere coincidence, but can only be the result of motivations that are nefarious, irrational, unjust, inhuman and contrary to the basic concept of citizenship.
"Yes, Copts feel that it is an insult to the intelligence of all Copts and all Egyptians to claim that 'everything is all right' now that Sheikh Al-Azhar has been seen embracing the [Coptic] Pope.
"Yes, Copts feel that it is strange that the taxes they pay are spent on building mosques and on the Al-Azhar [Islamic] University, while [at the same time] they must invest huge efforts to build churches at their own expense.
"Yes, Copts, and especially those above the age of 60, feel that the attitude displayed today towards themselves, their wives, their daughters, and their sons is totally different from what they experienced over 40 years ago in the very same Egypt."
"To Accuse Anyone Who Speaks of These Matters of Being an Agent of Parties Hostile to Egypt is Simply a Joke"
"These are the essential aspects of the subject. To accuse anyone who speaks of these matters of being an agent of parties hostile to Egypt, or of being involved in a plot against Egypt, is simply a joke, an insult to the truth and an affront to reason.
"Among the Copts who are concerned with the general Coptic issue, none fail to realize the extent of the disagreement between myself and the engineer 'Adli Abadir, who sponsored the Zurich conference and the upcoming conference in Washington.
"However, I am the kind of person who can say, and I do say, that [despite the fact that] I cannot stand 'Adli Abadir, nor the way in which he presents his thoughts and his style of writing and speaking. I shall continue so long as I live to reiterate what I have said in this article, and even more. Likewise, I will never say that 'Adli Abadir is an agent acting in someone else's [interest], or that he is conspiring with anyone to harm Egypt. [To make such accusations] is the style of riffraff and a reflection of the style of the security services' investigations department, whose time has passed.
"[As] someone who respects his own thought and intellect - and in my case, his writing - I do not allow myself to join the pack of barking dogs or to abandon the essence of the issue and to look to impugn 'Adli Abadir and Mike Munir's character, because an intellectual must have a totally different nature than that of a police detective."
Egypt Will Never Get On the Road to Recovery so Long as Copts and Women Do Not Enjoy Full and Unimpaired Citizenship
"A few years ago, a person came to my office whose high-level position and job had direct bearing on the Coptic issue, and he asked me why I was so enthusiastically involved in what I call in my writings 'the Coptic issue.' I told him at the time that as an Egyptian it is my obligation to do so, and this is also what makes me support women's issues in Egypt - because Egypt, which today is sick, will never get on the road to recovery so long as Copts and women do not take part in treating Egypt's problems from a position of full and unimpaired citizenship.
"A person who is oppressed and whose rights are denied cannot participate in pushing forward the broken-down wagon. I was sure that this visitor did not understand what I told him, because he was trained to treat the Copts as a threat to Egypt, despite the fact that they are the original Egypt."
If We Don't Recognize the Problem, it Will Turn Into an International Human Rights Issue
"At the time, I also told him: 'If the Coptic issue is not discussed here, in Egypt, it will eventually be discussed abroad, and if we don't recognize all the aspects of the problem, then the Copts abroad will take [their cause] from the stage of merely crying out that they are being oppressed to the stage of [calling it] a human rights issue, and then many will pay attention to them on an international level, including important decision-makers.'
"When I was young, I heard the Arab adage: 'Most fires start from small sparks that people overlooked.' Today [we realize that] most troubles result from their having been ignored when they were small. We demand of the world that they believe our claim that we are above reproach in our treatment of non-Muslims and women, and we relish repeating this, while the world looks at our deeds and finds them to be totally contrary to what we say.
"To come back to the issue of the Copts in Egypt, I contend that the fact that most senior officials continue to ignore the Coptic issue will bring Egypt to crises which I can almost make out on the horizon. They are similar to the crises of others in the region - others who fell prey to the temptation to ignore some problems, and especially to ignore the realities of today's world, that is, the post-Cold War world.
"This is a world in which the idea of sovereignty in its old sense, which had been stable for the many decades preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall, is no longer of any use to anyone. There are those who understand this new world, and there are those who are unable to understand and take in all dimensions of this change…"