It has been decades now that Copts have suffered marginalisation and exclusion from promotions to high-ranking positions of public office. The countless hours I repeatedly spend scanning official lists—whether those approved by the president or by ministers—of appointments or promotions of public servants invariably end in frustration since the number of Copts on these lists compared to their Muslim counterparts is slight, rare, or non-existent. This inexplicable official stance against Copts was the topic of several articles I wrote, in which I cited in detail the numbers and proportions of Copts on these lists. The past few weeks have seen similar instances regarding party candidate lists for the parliamentary elections which are—incidentally—held today. The Coptic candidates on these lists are too few in number; a telling example is the National Democratic Party (NDP) which announced with pride that it was fielding 10 Copts among 720 candidates nationwide. Even though this may be counted as progress compared to only two Coptic candidates fielded by the NDP in the 2005 elections, it is still way too little too late, especially given that the 444 parliamentary seats of 2005 have now been increased to 506.
A letter I recently received, however, cited a list on which the Copts held an astounding majority; in fact it included 57 Coptic names and 13 Muslim ones. The list concerned a number of young men who had been employed as security guards by the Education Ministry in Assiut in July 2004. They were among a bigger group of 500 security guards, and have since been performing very well as mentioned in their annual assessment reports. None of them had been subjected to any disciplinary or corrective action at any time. When promotions were announced last September, however, this group of 70 was amazed to find out that, apart from their 430 colleagues, they were assigned positions that would jeopardise their chances to go on working as the security guards they had been since 2004.
Upon enquiring at the Assiut Education Directorate, the 70 guards were stunned to be told that they had been moved “because of objections by the official security authority”. It made no sense that, after six years of excellent performance, it was discovered they were not the right persons for the job. The fact that most of them were Copts inevitably begged the question whether this had something to do with the otherwise inexplicable decision. The fact that the list also included 13 Muslims was explained away as merely to camouflage a sectarian-based decision.
In the complaint they sent me, the group of 70 pointed out that the move violated the 1978 law which governs State civil servant affairs, regarding the division of job groups and the separate characteristics of each group. The Assiut Education Directorate, however, tried to justify the ‘lenient’ move by claiming that the only other alternative would have been to fire the 70 persons.
The complaint also cites a relevant legal precedent by the State Council, the highest administrative court in Egypt. It is not allowed, the court said, to move a worker from the position he or she was initially assigned to—even if the assignment was in any way incorrect—after 60 days of his or her performing the job with no delinquency. In the case in question, the workers had spent six years at the job and had earned excellent performance assessments.
The complaint by the group of 70 was sent to Assiut governor, the Education Minister, the Central Agency for Organisation and Administration, and finally to the presidency. As the plaintiffs await justice they stand amazed at the huge power which possesses the authority to penalise citizens even in face of the law.
Until a resolution is taken to bring justice to these workers, I invite you to share my joy at finally coming upon a list with a Coptic majority!