Lawyer Mona Zulfakar proposes anti-discrimination initiative

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

CAIRO: Tens of people spanning the social, ideological and religious spectrum gathered Sunday to discuss a new anti-discrimination and equal opportunity initiative proposed by lawyer and member of the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) Mona Zulfakar.

The meeting was held at the premises of the Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination (EARD) movement.

“It is not a draft law, explained Zulfakar. “I am just presenting a concept paper that we can modify until it reaches a legal form.

Zulfakar had made he proposal to the NCHR last December. “Since then, several seminars and discussions were conducted to review the proposal before the council recommended it to the government, Zulfakar told Daily News Egypt.

In its first article, the Egyptian constitution emphasizes that the concept of citizenship is the bedrock of the state system. Citizenship is based on equal opportunities for all and equality before the law in all rights and duties, hence prohibiting discrimination based on gender, ethnicity, language, religion or beliefs.

The constitution also dictates that no discrimination should be practiced due to social or economic status, political or cultural views, health condition or disability.

“However, there is a gap between constitutional articles and legislation and their application on the ground, she explained. “This led to a regression in respecting the sovereignty of law and the increase in violence, hooliganism, terrorism in general, and especially sectarian violence.

“Frustration and lack of belonging have spread among many segments of Egyptian youth, who, unfortunately, took the risk of dying by drowning [while attempting to illegally emigrate to neighboring countries] to escape their despair, she added.

“These young people felt injustice due to the lack of job opportunities and nepotism, she said.

Zulfakar suggested a few practical steps as part of applying her proposed law. A monitoring mechanism is required to not only expose violations, but also to play a positive role in ensuring that all public and private institutions take the necessary measures.

Violators may be forced to pay fines and in some cases might receive prison sentences.

“An equal opportunity and anti-discrimination commissioner or ombudsman will have the right to request data and reports proving that the institutions abide by the law, she said.

“She/he will also investigate complaints, issue warnings to those who violate the law and file lawsuits against them.

Zulfakar also suggested establishing a committee for equal opportunity and anti-discrimination to be chaired by the ombudsman and run by his deputies. “The ombudsman system is applied in many countries like the UK and Australia, she said.

Nevertheless, the Sunday seminar participants questioned the possibility of passing or applying such a law. “The main problem in Egypt is that discrimination is the responsibility of the State, argued Cairo Institute for Human Rights Director Bahie Eddin Hassan.

“It is not just about companies refusing to hire Christians, Muslims or women. The State will likely be one of the entities paying large fines if this law is applied, said the Head of EARD movement Mounir Megahed. “For example, Christians are not allowed to join Al-Azhar University though it encompasses secular colleges having nothing to do with Islamic studies.

Coptic secular intellectual Kamal Zakher pointed out another obstacle to applying such an initiative.

“To top these challenges is Article 2 of the Egyptian constitution which dictates that the State’s source of legislation is Islam, he said. “We have plenty of laws but the problem is how they can be put into force.

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