By Heba Fahmy
CAIRO: Political powers and religious leaders welcomed Cabinet’s latest statements aimed at addressing sectarian tension, with some calling for immediate implementation of decisions and others offering suggestions of awareness programs and laws.
Bishop Filapoteer Gamil of Giza welcomed Cabinet’s plan for easing sectarian strife, including drafting a unified law for building houses of worship, but added that more was needed to ease the tension.
He said Coptic protesters would continue their open sit in in-front of the State TV building until those responsible for igniting the Imbaba clashes, which left at least 12 dead, are prosecuted.
“As long as (these criminals) are left free, these sectarian crimes will happen again and again,” he said.
The Cabinet did not guarantee that it would re-open all the churches or set a specific timeframe for it, he added. It merely said that the national justice committee would review the reasons behind their closure, he explained.
On Wednesday, a national justice committee was established to fight sectarian strife, in a bid to ease sectarian tension following the Imbaba clashes, during which a church was burnt.
The committee will propose solutions and execute them swiftly, according to a statement published on the Cabinet’s website Wednesday.
The committee is assigned to draft a law incriminating all kinds of discrimination among Egyptians and guaranteeing their rights and freedoms in accordance with the constitutional declaration announced by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in March.
It will also be responsible for drafting a unified law for building houses of worship. The committee is given a timeframe of 30 days to complete these two tasks.
Political powers and Islamic scholars reacted positively but described the decisions as overdue.
“Several crimes incited by sectarian strife and incidents of burning churches have recurred since the January 25 Revolution,” Mohamed Farag, secretary general of the Tagammu Party, told Daily News Egypt.
He added that Salafi groups, ultra-conservative Muslims, exploited the security vacuum in Egypt following the revolution to intimidate people in the name of religion.
Karima Al-Hifnawy, member of the Kefaya Movement as well as the National Association for Change, told DNE that these measures needed to be implemented swiftly.
“The Cabinets’ statements need to be implemented immediately in order to ease tension on the street and end people’s protests,” she said, “The people want to see actions, not statements.”
Media and religious scholars have to play a role in increasing people’s awareness and easing sectarian tension instead of igniting it, she added. “The roots of sectarian strife need to be eliminated.”
Ali Al-Samman, former deputy head of religious dialogue at Azhar University, agreed, saying that creating an environment of tolerance between Muslims and Christians and raising awareness was essential in ending sectarian tension.
Changing people’s culture and views is done through education and media, he added. “Television is the real public school,” he said, adding that the education system needs to be improved to include cultural programs that increase students’ awareness of sectarian issues.
Political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah said as long as the security vacuum and the state of instability remained, sectarian tension will escalate.
Rashad Bayoumi, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, attributed sectarian strife in Egypt not to lack of laws but to ignorance of Islam.
“We had a fleet of laws guaranteeing equality between all citizens in rights and obligations,” Bayoumi said, “But that didn’t put an end to sectarian tension.”
“Islam guarantees the rights of Copts and protects their churches, but people don’t implement or understand the true values of Islam,” he said.
Most political powers supported Cabinet’s decision to activate the law banning the use of religious slogans in political campaigning, except the Muslim Brotherhood.
Former MP Mohamed El-Beltagi of the MB said the interpretation of religious slogans needed to be explained and modified, adding that the Administrative Court interpreted the MB’s “Islam is the solution” as a slogan representing a political program stemming from Islamic legislations.
“Religious slogans are interpreted as ‘discriminatory’ slogans,” El-Beltagi told DNE. “However the Brotherhood’s slogan isn’t discriminatory.”
Abdel Fattah, however, doubted that the law banning the use of religious slogans in political campaigning would be implemented.
“Religious slogans were used during the referendum (on the constitutional amendments in March), right under the government’s nose and nothing was done to prevent it,” he said.
Less welcome was Cabinet’s amendments to the law governing political parties, with critics saying they force more restrictions on the establishment of new political parties.
“New political parties including the youth who sparked the January 25 Revolution probably will not be able to afford to publish a statement in two newspapers,” Bayoumi said.
The amendments oblige political parties to publish the names of their founders in two national daily newspapers within eight days of sending official notification of their establishment to the political parties committee.
Al-Hifnawy said that the cabinet and SCAF needed to debate and discuss these bills with the people before issuing and implementing them.