Copts weigh in on their exclusion from political life

Daily News Egypt
4 Min Read

CAIRO: The dissenting voices of Egypt’s Coptic activists have been on the rise over the past few years with increased calls to participate in political life and occupy senior government positions in the state.

However, such calls have generally been ignored both by the government and, surprisingly, by Copts themselves.

The argument over Coptic integration in politics dates back to 1972 when former President Anwar Sadat publicly emphasized the fact that he was a “Muslim president in what political analysts described as a maneuver to gain the support of the powerful Muslim Brotherhood.

Sameh Fawzy, a commentator on Copts Christian affairs, disputes the notion that Egyptian Christians do not participate in public life.

He told Daily News Egypt that Copts are fully engaged in all aspects of public life but that in the political sphere, their participation has limited political weight and is not influential in decision-making.

Fawzy asserted that there is a clear tendency for abstention in voting among Christians, a tendency which he believes applies to Egyptians as a whole.

The abstention of Christians as a special case, however, is evident in the number of Christian representatives in the People’s Assembly, with only one elected and five appointed in the current parliament.

Copts are hence under-represented in government in proportion with the size of their population, estimated at about 10 million of Egypt’s 79 million, according to the 2006 census.

Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros Ghali (who also doubles as the only elected MP) and Maged George, minister of state for environmental affairs, are the only two Copts in cabinet. There is one governor, Magdy Ayoub of Qena, and five MPs who were appointed by the state.

Most Christians run in elections as independents not as a block which minimizes their chances for high representation. If the government applies a quota system, this would increase the number of Christians in parliament significantly, Fawzy said.

“The constitutional reform of 1964 gave the president the authority to appoint 10 members of parliament. Since then, it has been common for these 10 appointees to be Christians, said Samir Morcos, head of the board of trustees of Al-Masri Institution for Citizenship and Dialogue.

There is a perception that by appointing some Christian MPs, the government would boost religious diversity, which would have otherwise been impossible through elections alone, he added.

Morcos pointed out that over the past 38 years, the number of Christians in senior government positions has been significantly decreasing.

The political manipulation of religion emerged in Egypt in the 1970s. Since then, political movements have had underlying religious views in varying degrees, which, says Morcos, has hindered Copts from reaching parliament or other high position in the state.

Egyptian often voted on religious grounds as opposed to candidates’ platforms, he explained.

A study conducted by Morcos showed that from 1924 to 1952 the participation of Copts in political life was proportionate to their representation in parliament, reaching 10 percent in 1942. During the same period, Copts even occupied senior positions such as prime minister and ministry of defense.

Historically, the Coptic Christian Church in Egypt is one of the oldest churches in the world and represents the majority of Christians living in the country.

The word Coptic is derived from the Greek word “Aigyptos which means Egypt; hence many Copts regard themselves as the indigenous people of Egypt.

Morcos however refused the attitude adopted by some Copts who refer to themselves primarily as Egyptian Christians rather than Egyptians.

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