Voice of the Copts
26 April 2009
In the past few months Coptic activists in and out of Egypt have started to ask the Egyptian government to remove the identification of religion from the official national identification cards. They have also asked to have a law allowing construction of worshiping places.
These questions would be legitimate if the person asking was living in a civil state that respects human rights and freedom of religion, two fundamental elements that are missing in Egypt.
In my view the two aforementioned requests would not accomplish the goal that Copts are seeking even if the government were to approve them. However there are various reasons which prove my statement. My main argument comes from the Egyptian constitution.
Herewith is a description of how the Egyptian constitution became what is today.
Egypt is known for having one of the earliest administrative and legislative codes in history. Throughout Egyptian history it’s easy to note that several cultures and civilizations have influenced Egyptian law. The ancient civilization brought the most advanced form of governance and management. In fact Pharaohs used to appoint high-ranking government officials. Since the era of the third and fourth dynasties several codes were promulgated; some were related to limiting the working hours of peasants while others combated forced labor.
The Greeks took the reins of power after Alexander the Great conquered Egypt in 330 B.C. After his death, the Ptolemaic era began which was later overthrown by the Romans. Although Roman rule was bitter, Egyptians retained most of their respective traditions, rules, and norms until Christianity spread in the first half of the first century, with the church largely sharing in the sustainability of intrinsic habits and customs.
After the occupation of Arabs (651AD) the Muslim ruler began to use their own Islamic laws without any consideration of the original habits of the Egyptian people.
When Egypt became the capital of the Shi'ite Fatimid Caliphate (969-1171), governance and legislation developed. Furthermore, the city of Cairo became the capital of Egypt.
Throughout the era of the Ayubi state (1171-1250), the Citadel became the headquarters and the center of power. Duties involved creating laws as well as forging treaties with foreign countries.
In the Mamluk era (1250-1517) Sultan El-Zaher Bebars built the Court of Justice at Salah El-Deen El-Ayoubi Citadel to serve as the government premises. Its ulterior motives covered enforcement of laws, settling of disputes, and negotiations with nearby countries.
During the Ottoman era, (1517-1805) Islamic courts constituted the judicial system. Judges determined their verdicts directly based on Islamic jurisprudence (Sharia) as far as civil and criminal disputes were concerned. This continued in effect until the end of the 18th Century. Egypt had become the scene of crucial political and social development.
In 1795, almost six years after the French revolution, a major political uprising demanded rights, freedoms, and justice. It brought together national forces and popular leaderships in support of national demands for justice, equality and freedom. As a result of the mounting resistance against the Ottoman rulers, the Wali and Mamluks, Egypt was on the verge of a massive revolt.
When this occurred the Ulama took hold of a written document which outlined the individual - ruler relationship averting a tax hike without the consent of the people's representatives notably the dignitaries (the Ulama).
July 1952 marked a new black era of Egyptian life. The plan of destroying the country started in 1956 with a new Constitution. The event stipulated the formation of the National Assembly on 22 July 1957.
It was made up of 350 elected members and remained effective until 10 Feb. 1958, when the Egyptian-Syrian merger was forced and the 1956 Constitution was revoked.
The Provisional Constitution of the United Arab Republic was formed in March 1958 and a joint National Assembly was established. It’s members were appointed, 400 members from Egypt and 200 from Syria. It first met on 21 July 1960 and lasted to 22 June 1961.
On 28 September 1961 the merger was revoked. In March 1964 a supplementary provisional Constitution was declared, leading to a 350-elected member National Assembly. Half of these members were workers and farmers. In July 1961 socialist laws added 10 members appointed by the President of the Republic. This Assembly lasted from 26 March 1964 to 12 November 1968.
New elections were held on 20 Jan. 1969, and the Assembly was valid until 30 August 1971.
In 1971, Sadat took office after Nasser’s death. Sadat tried to show the western world that he was different than his predecessor Nasser by being open with the Western countries. Sadat freed those who Nasser had incarcerated with a goal to protect his power, also to demonstrate that he was a liberal to the western leaders.
After the 1973 war with Israel Sadat initiated a peace process with Israel; creating enemies in the Arab and Muslim world. This action disappointed those which he had freed earlier.
On May 22nd, 1980 Sadat made the worst amendment to the Egyptian Constitution by adding the following article and placing it as second article of the constitution:"Islam is the religion of the State and Arabic its official language. Islamic jurisprudence is the principle source of legislation."
After Sadat's assassination in 1981, Mubarak took over following the same foot steps of his previous predecessors.
Following this the Copts requested to remove the article on the identification card which indicates an individual's religion. If the government would agree to remove such an indication, my question would be did we resolve the problem?
There are a variety of laws resting in the government’s drawers without being applied. The question would be:
How would a government human resource officer act when given the decision to hire a candidate for an opening between one named Mohammed and another named George?
Who would be elected Hassan or Peter?
Religion is not indicated on the birth certificate or ID card in any civilized country. However in Egypt, if a 50 year old Christian decides to convert to Islam, the authority changes his religion on his birth certificate!
Voice of the Copts is joining the freedom lovers in Egypt and demanding the removal of the second article of the Egyptian constitution. Herewith, I would like to remind Mr. Mubarak of what he wrote to the Copts in his Easter greeting less than one week ago: http://voiceofthecopts.org/en/articles/mubarak_s_letter_to_coptic_immigrants.html
Few days ago, in a letter sent to Copts in the Diaspora, Mubarak indicates that “all citizens enjoy their civil rights and an individual's faith is a personnel matter; the country is for all.”
I wonder how a citizen could enjoy his civil rights and his personal faith when the constitution indicates the opposite.
Sources: Egyptian Constitution Egyptian HistoryVarious Encyclopedias