In any election process, the relation between voters and candidates is one of reciprocal interest. Candidates are after the voters’ votes, and voters are after representatives who would adequately represent them, demand their rights and present their grievances and demands to the legislative council concerned. Voters thus expect candidates’ campaigns to address their interests and demands, and to secure full citizenship rights for future generations.
Not-a few NGOs and national councils have already demanded that the issue of citizenship rights in Egypt be tackled. Their efforts, however, never went beyond the publishing of data and reports on the rights situation; it never found its way to Parliament—or on to legislation. Given that the executive authority, represented by the government, has so far failed to place on its legislative agenda bills for the consolidation of citizenship rights, MPs have the right to suggest proposals for such bills.
I would like to remind candidates and voters alike of the demand for full citizenship rights issued by the National Council for Human Rights in its annual reports as well as in its reports on specific incidents that have shaken social peace in Egypt. Similar demands were also voiced last month in a declaration by the Journalists’ Syndicate in the wake of its Conference on National Unity and the Confrontation of Sectarian Sedition. Both these initiatives are too urgent and significant to be ignored; they should rather be adopted and empowered by the people’s representatives.
Current legislation is deficient in constituting equality between all Egyptians regardless of colour, gender, religion, or political denomination. Demand is high for legislation that would firmly establish unqualified citizenship rights for all, and would criminalise the discrimination against any Egyptian citizen, correct it, and compensate him or her for it.
For the sake of confirming freedom of faith and belief, Egypt needs a unified law for places of worship, through which all Egyptians would be treated equally where the building of places of worship is concerned. The procedures which govern the purchase of land upon which to build a place of worship; the building permits; approvals for renovation, restoration, expansion, or demolition and rebuilding, should be one and the same for mosques, churches, or any other place of worship.
It is imperative to issue legislation to confront the sectarian tension promoted by the media, the educational institution, and the religious establishment itself. It has been proved beyond doubt that these institutions are pivotal in spreading fanaticism and hatred against the other, since they are best placed to penetrate minds and homes and delude the poorly-informed. Objective reports on sectarian violence have invariably insisted that culprits should be brought to justice, and that the law has to be implemented instead of being sidelined in favour of the so-called traditional reconciliation sessions.
This nation today carries an ugly legacy of three decades during which the educational institution has been Islamising curricula and textbooks. One religion was always presented as superior to the others, and as monopolising Egypt to the exclusion of others. Today we need firm, incisive intervention to purge the curricula of such concepts, to rehabilitate teachers, and promote reason and critical thinking instead of superstition.
Where the concept of Egyptian identity is concerned, a lot remains to be done. It must be stressed that Egypt belongs to all Egyptians indiscriminately; no Egyptian is superior to another by virtue of his or her religion. In this respect, we have tirelessly called for the abolishment of the religion box from identity documents to block pretexts for religious discrimination, but to no avail.
The politicisation of religious establishments ought to be confronted with legislation which strictly separates politics and religion. Instead of dominating or confiscating the political attitudes of its members, these establishments should be relegated solely to their spiritual and pastoral roles.
I hope voters would place before their eyes, as they approach balloting, the required reform on the citizenship rights front. The election process should go ahead with decency, awareness, and transparency, with all efforts tuned to the benefit of Egypt. Only then would the average Egyptian surmount his or her customary wariness of the ineffectiveness of balloting, and go out and vote for change.