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Youseef Sidhom

Notes on the long-awaited law

12 June 2011
The long-awaited unified law for building places of worship looks finally destined to see light, following six years of freezing in Parliament, and despite numerous, occasional crises which erupted owing to the lack of a law of the kind. As we applaud the move, we ought to give credit where credit is due: the brave man who took the first step to issue such a law was former MP Mohamed Guweili, chairman of Parliament’s proposals and complaints committee in 2005. Guweili submitted to Parliament a bill that would place places of worship of all religions in Egypt on equal footing. Two years later, in the wake of the violent attack against the Copts of the village of Bemha in Ayyat, Giza, four then MPs—Sayed Rustom, Ibtissam Habib, Yassin Eleiwa and Mustafa al-Hawary—again submitted a bill to that effect to Parliament. In June 2007, the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) formulated its own draft law, which proved more detailed, and charted the course for putting the bill into effect...More

Documented facts about the church in Ain Shams

5 June 2011
Egypt today appears to be an open field for the free circulation of a host of fallacies and rumours. Subject to neither scrutiny nor correction, many people take them for the literal truth. Some of the most recent fallacies circulated concerned the church of the Holy Virgin in Ain Shams, the re-opening of which, after three years of closure, triggered a crisis some two weeks ago. The Islamists who violently opposed the reopening alleged that the building was a garment factory and had never been a church in the first ..More

Between two reports

22 May 2011
In the immediate aftermath of the tragic attack against the Copts in Imbaba a fortnight ago—the latest in a series of episodes by Salafis and thugs aimed at hijacking the 25 January Revolution—the National Council for Human Rights (NCHR) dispatched a fact-finding commission to Imbaba. The commission investigated the situation on the ground, talking to eyewitnesses, members of the clergy, and the hospitalised injured, and came up with an accurate account of the events. It released a candid report analysing the unhealthy climate which allowed the disgraceful events to take place. Praiseworthy is that the commission did not stop at finding the facts, but offered recommendations to prevent the recurrence of similar attacks. ..More

Code name: sectarian sedition

15 May 2011
The heinous crime which took place last week in the neighbourhood of Imbaba, Giza, is the ultimate in desecrating the dignity of the State by Salafis and thugs—whose presence has, tragically, become a constant in our daily lives since the 25 January Revolution. The Salafis and thugs attacked the church of Mar-Mina in Imbaba, and set fire to the neighbouring Coptic homes, cars and shops, as well as to another Imbaba church, that of the Holy Virgin which they left in ruins. They based their disgraceful act on allegations that a young female who had converted to Islam was being held captive at Mar-Mina’s. ..More

State dignity…victimised by Salafis or by the State?

1 May 2011
No matter what the outcome of the Qena governor predicament until these lines go into print, the core of this article remains true and pressing. The appointment earlier this month of a Coptic governor to the southern province of Qena provoked widespread demonstrations by hardline Islamist Qenawis. The protests culminated in civil disobedience, with demonstrators taking over government buildings, blocking roads in town, and stopping buses to segregate men and women passengers. They blocked the Cairo Aswan highway and railroad line, and threatened to cut off fresh water and power from towns and villages whose water supply or power comes from Qena. ..More

A revival for Egypt

24 April 2011
As Christians celebrate the Resurrection of Christ… Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. He launched a new era, an era of reconciliation and salvation, where the old things are done with and everything becomes new. It is an era in which man is released from retribution, and is consequently able to enjoy peace, happiness, and serenity. The Light of the Resurrection of Christ brings us all these comforting sentiments, and we in turn carry them with us on our long strife in this world, assured of victory and eternal life. ..More

Salafis again humble the State?

17 April 2011
Here is the second episode in a dreadful series of events that appear to have no end in sight. We had thought that the 25 January revolution would open a new chapter in the relations between Muslims and Copts—given their obvious solidarity and sympathy all through the 18-day uprising. The then prevalent climate of Muslim Coptic solidarity urged Coptic pundits to stress that the transformation to a civil democratic State should top the demands for reform, rightfully eclipsing all else. In that sense, the Coptic file with its deep grievances, they argued, had to be temporarily shelved until the foundation of the aspired modern State is laid. Then, they believed, Coptic grievances would be spontaneously, automatically resolved within the expected dominance of equality and citizenship rights...More

When sports become irksome

10 April 2011
Last weekend saw a very sorry sight at the Cairo Stadium as the game between the Egyptian and Tunisian football teams drew to a close with a tie between the Zamalek Club and the Tunisian Club Africain team. An unbridled mob of Zamalek fans armed with knives and sticks broke into the field and assaulted the referee, his assistant, and members of the Tunisian team. It was an incident that brought shame to all Egyptians...More

The Salafis humble the State?

3 April 2011
Egypt in its entirety stood horrified a few days ago at the Salafis in the southern town of Qena, who challenged the authority of the State and the rule of law and enforced hudoud (Islamic penalty) on a Copt. Basing on what they claimed to be allegations of sexual immorality, they cut his ear and burned his home and car. Never mind that the allegations were groundless. Stunned by the horrific crime, the nation questioned how dare some group hijack State authority and assign itself the combined roles of jury, judge and executioner? How come the State apparatuses were not able to prevent this crime? And why did they not bring the culprits to justice? And, even much worse, who stands behind the second crime, that of forging a ‘reconciliation’ between the victim and his attacker, in the course of which the victim had to relinquish all his legal rights? As I see it, this was nothing short of a reward to the attacker, a gross offence to the victim and a severe blow to the rule of law and the civil State...More

One party…or more

27 March 2011
With a new law that allows the formation of political parties upon simple notification just around the corner, the upcoming period is expected to see the formation of a host of parties. Indeed, some of these have been already announced, while many others will likely emerge soon. Over the past few weeks, the media has been disclosing information on several nascent parties, their leaders, as well as hints of their platforms. Many others promise to be formed...More

Party regulation, old and new

20 March 2011
Last week, a responsible source from the ruling military establishment was quoted to have declared that, following the 19 March public referendum on the constitutional amendments, a new law removing the restrictions on the formation of political parties would be promulgated. According to the new law, the official said, a party would be recognised immediately following a simple notification. The Egyptian political arena hailed the declaration as a materialisation of the long-awaited principle of free formation of political parties. It came as a comfort to those concerned with political reform in Egypt. ..More

Is the revolution eating itself up?

13 March 2011
Every week that transpires without life in Egypt going back to normal and people returning to work is detrimental for the 25 January revolution which had the world holding its breath in thrall. Every additional week of chaos and lack of security represents an added, worrying indication for the future of the revolution. Every additional week with mobs tightening their grip on streets, terrorising pedestrians, plundering and devastating private and public property, deducts from the revolution’s credit. And every additional week when anger prevails over wisdom begs the question of whether the revolution has begun eating itself up? ..More

For a slate system

6 March 2011
Last week, the committee tasked by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) with amending several articles of the Constitution completed its mission. The committee chairman Counsellor Tareq al-Bishri announced the amendments introduced to drive political reform in Egypt. These cover conditions to contend for the presidency, and propose a maximum of two terms in office as well as full judicial supervision of polls. The President is committed to appoint a vice president—or more than one—in a maximum of two months following his accession to power. In my view, all the amendments are reassuring as they meet the public's aspirations for change—before and after the 25 January revolution. In the same context, the amendments restrict the power of the President, especially in relation to declaring a state of emergency. Egyptians see the emergency law as a nightmare. For decades, calls and efforts to abrogate the law have been to no avail as the parliament—dominated by the then ruling National Democratic Party (NDP)—was reluctant to touch the law. Now Parliament’s approval is a must before invoking a state of emergency, the validity period of which should not exceed six months. For the state of emergency to be extended, the public should approve it in a referendum. The amendments went further to propose the formation of a 100-member constituent assembly to draft a new constitution, again approved via a public referendum. The articles covered by the amendments are 75, 76, 77, 88, 93, 139, 148 and 189. As for article 179, which allows the president to refer civilians to military tribunals, it was annulled. Yet the committee’s work did not touch upon the constitutional articles which deal with the foundation of political parties or with the elections of the People’s Assembly and Shura Council (the lower and upper houses of Egypt’s Parliament). In the eyes of the revolutionary masses, however, these demands are no less important than those concerning the prerogatives of the President. Now that the SCAF has dissolved both houses of parliament, the rules regulating their reformation have to be set as soon as possible to put an end to the ambiguity characterising this question. After disclosing the proposed amendments, al-Bishri announced that from now on voters will need no more than their ID cards to cast their ballots. This marks a welcome farewell to the infamous voting cards with all the problems they cause. Other things need further clarification, however. A host of pundits and observers asked whether the upcoming elections will be held in accordance with the existing system or they will be postponed until the free formation of political parties is allowed; this would surely give an opportunity to inject new blood into political life. With the demise of the ruling NDP—which might possibly disappear altogether—and the disarray most parties are now suffering from, competition will be inconceivable without the introduction of new political parties. Otherwise, the parliament would consist mainly of independents. In this case, problems will arise when trying to give an account of the majority and minority—the government and opposition. In addition to this thorny issue, the committee has not said a word about changing the current individual candidacy to a slate system. I cannot understand how the committee overlooked such a matter—which I consider the most important in this regard. On the ground, the individual candidacy system prevents free competition in favour of family loyalties and the power of money. It turns voters to mere tools ready to be misused by corrupt candidates. If we are to bring about genuine political reform, and if we are to listen attentively to the voices raised after and before 25 January, the present individual candidacy should give way to a slate system. This way, free competition based upon parties’ platforms would govern our political life, and corruption would vanish. Around the world, there is variety of systems that could be examined to choose a formula which suits us best—these include the combination of the slate and individual candidacy. I hope this issue would cease to be placed on hold in the coming period. Otherwise, elections will in all likelihood produce an incompetent, self-interested and corrupt parliament similar to those we used to have in the past...More

First things come first

27 February 2011
Events in Egypt are moving at such a whirlwind pace; one is positively out-of-breath trying to catch up on them. With Egyptians whole-heartedly savouring the “post-Mubarak era”, I worry lest the 25 January revolution be hijacked or drift into uncertain directions. Wisdom dictates that matters should return to normal as soon as possible; workers and employees should go back to work to compensate for the huge economic losses incurred during the 18-day revolution. Yet some voices are actively spreading the erroneous notion that now is the perfect time for workers to pressure the government to grant them demands that would otherwise be forever lost. Since this idea plays into the suffering of the poor and deprived, it has produced a wave of strikes, protests and walkouts. ..More

Towards a civil State

20 February 2011
Egypt’s youth—and behind them the Egyptian people—have achieved their dream of overthrowing the regime. The revolution which erupted on 25 January 2011 marked a brilliant turning point in Egypt’s modern history, perhaps even more so than the 23 July 1952 Revolution. The fact that the young people in Tahrir Square persisted in maintaining their demonstration peaceful, even though several of them lost their lives and many were injured in bloody encounters with outsiders, was a source of pride for all of us. Not only us, but the whole world stood watching in admiration and appreciation as the Egyptians succeeded in changing a reality they thought worthy of change. ..More

Contemplations on a revolution

13 February 2011
Despite the struggle of mainstream Egyptians to go back to striving for their livelihoods in a semblance to their ‘normal’ daily routine, revolutionary wrath is still ablaze across the country. Even though most Egyptian regions are bristling with demonstrations, it remains a fact that Tahrir Square, situated in the very centre of Cairo, has become the vibrant heart of the revolution. As the hub that attracts Egyptians from all walks of life to express their discontent and demand legitimate rights, Tahrir has become the centre of attention of both local and international media. This brings to mind the bloodless worker revolution in Gdansk, Poland, in 1989, considered by many to have been the beginning of the downfall of communism, first in Poland and later in the Soviet Union...More

Statement of account

6 February 2011
Now, and only now, after the explosion of Egyptian wrath: • Mubarak declares he has no plans for running in the upcoming presidential elections. • Mubarak declares he will assign Parliament to study the amendment of the articles 76 and 77 of the Constitution. Both articles are concerned with the election of the president of the republic and the terms of the presidency...More

The Coptic quarter

3 February 2011
I have never reviewed a book in this space; book reviews have their special place on the literary page and are reviewed by specialised staff. Yet today I intend to review a book and I have a very special reason for doing so. The Muslim-Christian solidarity, which followed the heinous bombing at the Church of the Saints in Alexandria on New Year Eve killing more than 24 and wounding some 90, should be fully exploited to effect imperative change, and should never be left to lose steam. Candid dialogue is pivotal in achieving that end since it exposes the hardships and grievances Copts endure day in day out, which should in turn fortify the public opinion calling for the enforcement of equality and citizenship rights. For its part, the State should initiate measures to reform the flawed conditions Copts suffer under. ..More

Egypt’s anger

23 January 2011
The Coptic anger which exploded in the wake of the New Year Eve bombing at the Church of the Saints in Alexandria was fully justified. It is my firm belief that this anger went beyond the direct crime and its horrifying outcome, and extended to cover a long history of blatant discrimination against Copts, marginalisation, and inequality. However, I also reject the destructive, tumultuous, mobbing wrath; there can be no excuse for outlaw fury. Copts need to understand they are not alone in their anger and grief; Egypt in its entirety has proved it is also grieving and wrathful. The Coptic grievance has fused into the national concern, and it is of the utmost importance that this national endorsement should not be lost...More

Coptic fury boils over

9 January 2011
Before a year on the Christmas Eve crime in Nag Hammadi, in which one Muslim passerby and six Copts were killed as they left church after Midnight Mass—Copts celebrate Christmas on 7 January—terrorism reared its ugly face, this time on New Year’s Eve. A year that did not lack for fierce sectarian violence against Copts, 2010 ended with hundreds of worshippers in churches praying for a more clement new year. But in Alexandria’s Church of the Saints, what had started as a joyful, hopeful event ended in a bloodbath as a bomb exploded, claimed the lives of more than 20 and left some 80 wounded...More

Copts and Muslims …the difference remains

26 December 2010
Last Sunday saw President Mubarak give his inaugural speech before Parliament for the new parliamentary round. Egyptians awaited the speech eagerly since it was expected to offer clear indications on the upcoming legislative agenda and the presidential assignment to the government in the new legislative term. In short, it offered a preview of the bills that would in all probability be placed before Parliament to pass into laws...More