CAIRO: The Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) amended Saturday a law in the penal code to apply stricter punishments against discrimination to ease sectarian tension following deadly clashes between military police and mostly Coptic protesters that left 27 people dead and more than 330 injured last week.
The amendment adds a fine of no less than LE 30,000 and no more than LE 50,000 for discrimination based on "gender, ethnicity, language, religion or belief."
Government employees convicted of discrimination will also be subject to at least three months in prison or a fine of LE 50,000 to LE 100,000, according to the text of the amendment published by the official MENA news agency.
Ishaq Asaad, lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) described the law as a good step but that “it wasn’t enough to ease sectarian tensions," which have long plagued Egyptian community.
Asaad said that a unified law regulating the building of houses of worship needs to be issued and all unauthorized houses of worship must be recognized.
The Cabinet said earlier last week that it would present a draft law recognizing unauthorized houses of worship to its legislative committee. It also said that it plans to draft a unified houses of worship law within two weeks.
However, Asaad pointed out that it is difficult to prove discrimination, despite a statement by Cabinet that specifies that “anyone who takes action or abstains from taking action which leads to discrimination between people or against a sect based on sex, origin, language, religion or doctrine (resulting in) a violation of equal opportunity, social justice or disturbing public peace," will be in breach of the anti-discrimination law.
"What’s important is implementing the law on the ground," Asaad said.
Hani Ramsis, leading member of the Coptic Union of Maspero Youth, said the law was a positive step, but added that it was "long overdue."
"This law was issued on the blood of innocent people who were unjustifiably killed in front of Maspero," Ramsis told DNE.
He pointed out that incitement was the basis of all crime, adding that punishment meted out to those who cause discrimination and divide people should be harsher.
Ramsis believes that the law should have been issued after the Imbaba clashes in May, which left 12 people dead following rumors that a Christian convert to Islam was being held in a church against her will after running off with a Muslim man.
Cabinet had issued a draft houses of worship law after the Imbaba violence, which was rejected by both Copts and Muslims, and has since been placed on the back-burner.
Egypt’s Copts account for around 10 percent of the population and have long complained of discrimination and demanded equal rights.
Mubarak’s regime was repeatedly accused of manipulating underlying sectarian tensions to reinforce its stranglehold on power. –Additional reporting by AFP.