Copts in Egypt ask for same rights as Muslims

21 September 2011

by Gerald Butt Middle East Correspondent

TWO human-rights organisations have each called on the authorities in Egypt to safeguard the interests of the Christian minority in the country. Christians — mostly Copts — constitute about one tenth of the population.

The International Society for Human Rights, based in Germany, said that six months after the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak regime, Christians were still under pressure.

A statement issued on Tuesday called on the interim military government in Cairo to give religious minorities “the same rights and the same protection as members of the Muslim majority population. This includes rights enshrined in law to build churches, the end of the persecution of converts, and the protection of minorities from extremist Muslims.”

Continued discrimination against Egypt’s Coptic community was also condemned earlier this month at a conference in Cairo, “Copts: Partners in the Nation but . . .”, organised by the Egyptian Union of Human Rights Organizations (EUHRO). Its director, Naguib Gebrail, said that Copts “feel they are even worse off after the revolution”.

Another speaker at the EUHRO conference, the president of the secular Tagammu Party, Refaat al-Saeed, said that it was time for all Egyptians to accept that “Egypt has religious discrimination.”

A Muslim scholar told delegates, however, that the Coptic Church must accept some of the blame, because it had discouraged its members, over the years, from merging with the Muslim majority.

There have been numerous incidents of violence between Copts and Islamic hardliners since the revolution. In one of the latest, Egyptian security forces were called to a village in the south of the country after members of the Coptic community found themselves under siege by groups of Muslims.

The latter were demanding that Christians abandon the recently rebuilt church of St George so that it could be converted into a mosque.

Copts are also facing internal dissent over the issue of divorce. Under current Coptic personal-status legislation, divorce is allowable only on the grounds of adultery. Some Copts have joined other Churches in order to benefit from their more relaxed divorce laws. Activists in the Coptic com­munity are calling on the leader of the Coptic Church, Pope Shen­ouda III, to allow civil marriages.

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