While watching the news on Arab TV networks, I was disappointed and dismayed by the clashes that were taking place between the protestors and the Egyptian military at Maspero Square in front of the Egyptian TV building (10/9/2011). The protestors were young Egyptian Copts who were demanding political reforms as a result of the burning of an Egyptian Coptic church in Aswan governate a few days earlier.
The protestors accused the Higher Military council of being too soft on Islamic fanatics whose influence has been increasing against Egyptian Copts since the January 25th Revolution. Several churches have been attacked and burned during the past seven months and the government has failed to prevent such violent acts.
The protestors were demanding the removal of the Aswan governor, who has failed to interfere and stop the attacks on Coptic churches. An Egyptian law from the nineteenth century, which is no longer applied by the government, prevented the construction of churches in Egypt. According to that law, the president of Egypt is the only authority that can permit the construction of a Coptic church. The protestors demanded that this law be replaced. The protestors were demanding the passage of a new common law that will apply equally to the construction of churches and mosques.
The issue of religious discrimination is the most serious problem for Egypt, because it tampers with its natural unity and security. It is a very puzzling question to ask – why has the Egyptian Higher Military Council failed to remove the outdated law, which they have already discussed and which led to past Coptic demonstrations? The Military Council has the power to do so and it would be a politically constructive act that would prevent the enemy of the revolution (at both the national and international level) from interfering in Egypt’s national security and unity.
Furthermore, the recent protest movement has caused the deaths of 25 people and the injuries of another 329, according to the reported news. It should be repeated that Muslim and Christians stood together in support of the January 25th Revolution, which led to its success. Also, it is understandable that the Egyptian public, who has been living for many decades under authoritarian rule, especially during the Mubarak regime, wants an immediate and quick positive result. Reform is a slow process, especially in certain sensitive areas that require more time to accomplish it. However, the slow changes, especially in regards to sensitive areas such as religious discrimination, should not wait. Reforms should be implemented immediately to maintain unity among the Egyptian population. To illustrate the urgency of the political reforms, some people within the Egyptian Coptic community called for international protection, which means that their own government has failed to protect them. The Coptic Christians of Egypt are an important part of the Egyptian political and social structure and should be treated equally and should not be viewed differently from their Muslim brothers. The elimination of the law that focuses on the delay or prevention of the construction of churches is urgent. It should be replaced by a new law that gives equal treatment to the construction of churches and mosques in Egypt. Until this happens, the conflict will continue to threaten Egypt’s unity and national security.
The rector of al-Azhar, Dr. Al-Tayeb, and other high ranking religious leaders from both sides have issued an official request (10/11/2011) asking the government to expedite the passage of the new law to replace the old one in order to avoid any further conflicts. The January 25th Revolution has been tarnished by what occurred at Maspero Square.