November 18, 2013 Special Dispatch No. 5526

Young Copts Plead The Case Of Atheists And Followers Of Eastern Religions At Egypt's Constitution Committee

November 18, 2013
Egypt | Special Dispatch No. 5526

Egypt's Committee of 50, charged with drafting the new Egyptian constitution, received delegations of various sectors of the population, such as war veterans, Nubians, the disabled, and Copts. In September, a delegation of Coptic youth met the committee and proposed amendments pertaining to religious rights of minorities. The youth said that the committee's Article 47 amendment, which provided for freedom of belief for Christians and Jews, in addition to Muslims, was insufficient, as it did not consider the rights of Bahais, non-monotheistic religions, like Eastern religions, or atheists.

Following are excerpts from statements made by the Coptic youths, which were broadcast by Sout Al-Shaab TV on September 28, 2013.

Click here to view this clip on MEMRI TV

Marianne Shawki Samir, Church youth organization member: "The phrasing of Article 47, which deals with freedom of belief, is too general. This vagueness leads to the denial of rights. What is the meaning of "freedom of belief" in the constitution? Does it mean that I am free to believe in a [monotheistic religion] other than Islam – like my family – or does it mean that I am free to believe in any religion or principle, or even the right to not believe in anything at all?

"I believe that we should include a specific article about freedom of belief, and I propose that you adopt the article on freedom of belief from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, because it is a very good article, which is very well phrased. It states that belief is a matter of conscience, and that every person has the right to believe, or not believe, in any principle or any religion.

"If we want to resolve this problem, we must not beat around the bush. If we leave the text the way it is, it will be just that. I would like to talk about people who are not Christian or... Why can't we simply respect others? Why are we so judgmental? I used to work with Japanese and Indian people for some time. They are good people, just like us. The fact that they are not Muslim, Christian, or Jewish does not make them lesser human beings in any way. If one of them wants to create a place of worship, and he gathers his people at the embassy, the factory, or wherever – what's wrong with that?

"The proposed article talks about establishing places of worship only for [Muslims], Christians, and Jews. Why do we deny others the right to worship in comfort in our country?" [...]

Andrew Nader, Church youth organization member: "With regard to people who are not Muslims, Christians, or Jews - we forget that there are other sects in our society as well, and they have the right to live.

"I spoke with a very respectable Bahai woman, Dr. Basma Moussa, who told me she me that to this day, she cannot be issued an ID card, because the constitution, or the legislator, does not consider her religion to be monotheistic, even though all religions consider themselves to be divine.

"[Egyptian Bahais] cannot be issued identity cards or get married, because the government does not recognize Bahai marriage. They are in a state of "civil death," more or less. We formulate an article that mentions the Jews, whom we drove out, but..."

Committee speaker: "We didn't drive them out..."

Andrew Nader: "Fine, even if they weren't driven out..."

Committee speaker: "They left for their own country."

Andrew Nader: "Never mind, the point is that they left..." [...]

"In Bangladesh, there are some 145 million people, 90% of whom are Muslim – about twice as many Muslims than in Egypt. This is the fourth largest concentration of Muslims in the world. They held a conference on Bahai law, so these people would feel welcome.

"I can't imagine how people could feel welcome, when we tell a [Bahai] woman who want to obtain an ID card that she must state that she is unmarried because we do not recognize Bahai marriage, even though she is married with children. Is this our way of complying with our religion? Are we supposed to make people convert, turning them into hypocrites, merely in order to obtain official documents? In my opinion, the article must include [freedom of belief] to all non-Muslims or be abolished altogether." [...]

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