In Selected Opinion

By Magdi Khalil –

In order to make matters well -defined and clear and to avoid confusion, we state that there is an Egyptian cause and a Coptic cause. For there are causes that concern all Egyptians together and there are causes that pertain to part such as Copts and women.

What are the angles of this Coptic cause?

The Coptic cause is comprised of three basic angles:

I. The first angle: Copts are a religious minority:
Without exaggeration, I could provide more than a hundred definitions of the concept of a minority all of which apply to Copts, however of course this is beyond the available space here, but in order not to enter into a vast debate concerning the concept of a minority we will limit ourselves to only some of these definitions according to apparent distinctions and issue of rights.

The Encyclopedia Britannica defines minorities as “a group of individuals who are racially or religiously or linguistically or nationally distinguished from the rest of the individuals in the community in which they live.”

The American Encyclopedia defines a minority as “a group whose social situation within the society is lower than the place of the dominant group in the same society. It possesses less influence and less power and enjoys fewer rights compared to the dominant group in the society. Often times, members of the minorities are deprived of enjoying fully the rights of the first-class citizens.”

As for the Italian expert Francesco Capotorti, in his study, which was commissioned by the United Nation and which was acknowledged by the international organization, he defined a minority by saying “a minority is a group lower in number relative to the rest of the population of a certain state and in a position of no authority in the state to which they belong.  This group possesses natural cultural or historical or religious or linguistic characteristics that differ from the rest of the inhabitants, and they express a sentiment of solidarity to preserve their culture, or religion or language.

The Norwegian Espiron Edie prepared a study for the United Nations Human Rights Committee in 1989 and the Committee approved his definition which said “by a minority it is meant every group of individuals who live in a sovereign state who constitute less than half of the population in the national community whose individuals enjoy common general characteristics of ethnic, religious, or linguistic that distinguish them from the rest of the inhabitances.”

As for Saad el-Din Ebrahim, he defines a minority in his valuable encyclopedia Al millal wal nihal wal a ‘araq (Faiths, …….. and races), as “any human group that differs from the majority in one or more of the following variables; religion, language, culture of ancestry.”

It is worth noting that being a minority does not negate that Copts are part of the fabric or a component of the components of the alloy or their being owners of the country or original citizens or descendants of the Pharaohs, or that their roots extend to the depth of Egyptian history.

The expression minority does not demean anyone and does not take away from the stature of Copts or the stature of Muslims, but it is a legal expression defined according to international law, on the basis of which the Egyptian government is bound by commitments. Therefore, it always seeks to deny it in order to evade these commitments in blatant violation of international law.

It is worth mentioning that the majority of impartial scholars of the subject of minorities in Egypt know that the concept of minority applies without argument to Copts.

II. The second angle: Copts are persecuted:
Perhaps there is much debate among many surrounding the concepts of persecution and discriminations. On my part, I gathered more than twenty definitions of persecution to find that they all apply to the situation of the Copts.

In international law, persecution is simply persistent systematic discrimination. It is a crime according to international law. This is why the prominent Egyptian law scholar and former Judge of the International Court of War Crimes, Mr. Fouad Abdel Moneim Riad says: “the crime of discrimination if practiced in a systematic manner against a specific group for religious or racial reasons or because of gender it could fall under burden of punishment before international courts and be called a crime of persecution.”

The international Criminal court for Yugoslavia defined persecution in the case of Kiopesk as “a gross blatant denial, based on discrimination, of a basic right confirmed in conventional or acknowledged international law.”

As for Rome’s Criminal International Court, it defined persecution as “intentional and severe deprivation of a group of the population or a total population of a basic right or of the basic rights, in violation of international law, because of the identity of the group or the whole population.” The court also defined persecution that “the perpetrator of the crime targets that person or those persons because of their belonging to faction or a specific group based on political, racial, national, ethnic, cultural, religious or gender basis; and targets the individual or the group on that basis.” The court included persecution as a crime against humanity according to article seven of its code.

As for Wikipedia, it defines religious persecution as systematic maltreatment of an individual or a group because of their religious beliefs.

Furthermore, the United Nations Charter considers that justifiable fear that befalls minorities a persecution, for it states “Anyone who is found to be the result of justifiable fear of exposure to persecution because of his race, religion or nationality or his belonging to a specific faction or because of his political opinions.”

In order not to drown in the deluge of definitions and through my reading of tens of sources which addressed this concept, I see that if there is a systematic discrimination against an individual or a group or a minority that is perpetrated by a government or that the government covers it or colludes with its executors, or denies its existence, or creates the climate that encourages such persecution, or it does not take it upon itself to combat or lessen it, this means that this government is persecuting this individual or that group or minority. For persecution at its basis is an intentional violation of citizenship rights by a government without the obligation to remedy this violation. Discrimination is supposed to be a phenomenon that the law resists it, and the government issues legislation and behaves on the basis of the reality on the ground in a manner that clearly demonstrates its opposition to such discrimination. Without that, discrimination is persecution.

III. The third angle: The Copts right to resort to international law and international conventions:
This subject might stir a lot of debate and disagreements within Egypt. This confusion is perhaps due to the fact that many in Egypt confuse foreign intervention in its original deplorable meaning that is associated with colonialism and exploitation with the constitutional legal right of Egyptians to resort to international rights law, and also the legitimacy of intervention by rights organizations that are concerned with human rights issues around the world.

Copts are absolutely not calling for foreign intervention in Egypt’s affairs in its old rejected meaning, for this contradicts their extended glorious nationalist history, but they are calling for putting into action articles of the Egyptian constitution which legitimates their right to resort to international rights law.

The concept of international intervention that is based on international law and international conventions has been settled in political and rights thought around the world. For international conventions were written to be effective statements and not dead letters. Similar to local constitutions, they are the basis for international rights and obligations.

The governmental debate surrounding these topics is a waste of time and escape from responsibilities, and above all, blatant violation of international law.

These are the angles of the Coptic cause. And it is a cause with all the meaning of the word and not an issue or a mere collection of grievances or a Coptic matter or complaints. All such descriptions are symptoms of the cause, and it is natural that complaints, and daily grievances, which the Copt suffers, result from the cause.

The three angles of the Coptic cause could be summarized in once sentence: A gross violation of citizenship rights. However, this sentence is not sufficient and does not represent a description of the dimensions of the cause, therefore it is necessary to point out its three angles.

To drop one or more of these angles means dropping the cause itself. Suppose someone denied the fact that Copts are a minority or are being persecuted or denied their right to protection by the law, both national or international which is accorded to them by the Egyptian constitution itself and international conventions, this means he drops or weakens the Coptic cause in its totality. For this means that what is happening to the Copts happens in the 193 countries registered as members in the United Nations. Why then do the Copts complain if their problem is a simple problem the likes of which exist in all countries of the world? This is what the Egyptian government keeps repeating; that what is happening to the Copts are small issues that happen around the world.

However, because there are many in the world who highly regard objectivity, highly regard and uphold international law and human rights and acknowledge reality above everything, therefore they know well and publicly acknowledge that Copts are a persecuted minority and that they have international rights confirmed on the basis of their situation. The cause of the Copts is clear internationally, but it is only not acknowledged by those who are in power in Egypt. And, there is even confusion in the minds of some of the very people who are concerned themselves.

Here, we warn Copts not to fall preys to the pressures or compliments and niceties or find it easy to downplay the gravity of their situation to negate or weaken their cause all together by denying one of its angles.

The Coptic cause is complete, and its aspects are clear. We only await those, Muslims and Copts, who would adopt it, for it is impossible to realize any achievement in the larger Egyptian cause concerning progress and building future Egypt without solving this Coptic cause.

On grounds of real citizenship and original Egyptian identity there are no problems between Muslims and Copts, but when citizenship is violated and turned into a chronic persecution of a group of human beings, and when the Egyptian identity is denied in favor of an imported Islamic Arabic Bedouin identity there certainly is a problem or a cause. The struggle for this cause is a struggle for citizenship at the same time. Therefore, working to solve the Coptic cause is working for the cause of citizenship and progress in Egypt. But, denying the existence of the Coptic cause or diluting it as part of the Egyptian cause in general is in a way, to further solidify the persecution of the Copts and weaken the cause of citizenship.


Translated by: George Gurugis MD  from Original article – القضيّة المصريّة والقضيّة القبطيّة

Photo Credit: Agence France-Presse

القضيّة المصريّة والقضيّة القبطيّة

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