In CS Releases & Articles

By Mina A. Botros – Coptic Solidarity

Recognizing the Coptic “Indigenous Peoples” Status for Protection from State-Sponsored Discrimination .

You can download the complete report from the link below


The current status of Egypt’s indigenous Copts has been one of subservience and systematic discrimination for centuries. Most foreign governments and international organizations have failed to intervene in effective ways, due to not understanding the Islamic legal system and its impact on minorities. The Egyptian state’s philosophy of governance is based on the experience that the international community, and many Copts themselves have accepted the negation of massacres, persecution, and systematic and ideological discrimination throughout the last 1,400 years in Egypt., as a gesture of pacification and absolving the historical injustices. The state strategy is composed of three factors: denial, legal manipulation, and forced tolerance,

First, the system has developed a culture of deniability of Coptic civilization, history, identity, and mere existence to challenge the ability to recognize whether a “Coptic case” exists. The definition of a Copt has been scattered enough for most states to understand what Coptic means as, to this day, there is no absolute definition of Copts as the ethnoreligious, indigenous community of Egypt. The Egyptian government has especially ignored the definition that would necessitate their action and intervention to protect Coptic Christians as not just a religious minority group but an indigenous population. This report has clearly demonstrated evidence for this assumption. Coptic studies are rarely present in public education, if at all, and the Coptic language has been intentionally removed from curricula schools. Continued efforts to distort the Coptic identity and forcibly integrate it into the one “Arab nation” is clear evidence of the denial of the unique characteristics that define Coptic, and, unfortunately, an increasing number of Copts find it challenging to distinguish their own identity anymore. Deniability, however, may be the primary evidence of the distinctiveness of the Coptic civilization as authorities feel the need to suppress this unique culture that may disrupt the “national unity” state project.

Second, excellence in legal manipulation has been the foremost reason why it is complicated for any international organization to recognize the existing discrimination against Copts or to act on it. The government has focused its efforts on lobbying many organizations and member-states to procrastinate on any provisions that make it easier to recognize the occurring national legal monopoly. For example, Coptic Solidarity gained consultative status in the United Nations Economic and Social Council after seven years of tabling and stalling perpetrated by the Egyptian delegation. Legally, the government has been imposing numerous laws that, even though presented as improvements in the legal status of minorities, are intentionally vague enough to maintain or worsen the situation of Copts as those laws are abused by the legal system and citizens at large. Much of the United Nations and other international organizations’ lack of urgency on the matter is due to the false perception of improving the status of Copts. In reality, the real improvement is in the Egyptian government’s ability to control the narrative surrounding the Coptic situation through lobbying, public relations campaigns, select cosmetic changes, and a campaign of complete repression and retaliation against those who dare speak against their narrative, including Copts and their sympathizers in Egypt, as well as in the diaspora.

Lastly, due to the long history of oppression and heavy governmental pressure, many Copts, including numerous Coptic Orthodox leaders, have developed an acceptance of oppression as the status quo, to the extent that most Copts perceive their life as second-class citizens with daily aggressions as normal. The result is that the Egyptian government can allude to a picture of tolerance when the situation is the opposite. The government has been using superficial gestures such as the annual presidential visit to the state-built cathedral on Christmas Eve or officiating Christian holidays for Christian employees. From a history of massacres, kidnapping of patriarchs, and increasing burdens of jizya, a large number of Copts initially viewed those actions as a gesture of good faith and tolerance, and hoped discrimination would dissipate. This sense of forced tolerance that the government has been cultivating in many peoples’ heads traces back to the idea of deniability and manipulation, where discrimination against Copts cannot happen if there is no Coptic identity and Copts themselves do not testify to discrimination.

Through the overt governmental and societal discrimination in Egypt in cases such as that of Soad Thabet, Baby Shenouda, sports, and church fires, increasing numbers of Copts are recognizing their status and fleeing Egypt. Few dare speak out as it will likely result in imprisonment, travel bans, loss of income, and hardship for one’s entire family. Coptic The Solidarity’s research and publications, advocacy campaigns, and awareness efforts have led more Copts in the diaspora to speak out, and given moral and at times physical support to those remaining in Egypt. The last hope for Copts to protect and preserve their unique identity is recognition for what they are: the indigenous peoples of Egypt. Legal recognition of this status through the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Working Group On Indigenous Populations/Communities And Minorities In Africa, and other relevant institutions can support the preservation of Coptic identity. Urging the Egyptian government to recognize their duty to implement The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples statutes towards Copts would be an important step towards effectively removing legal and practical features of discrimination in Egypt.

The founding and mission of Coptic Solidarity has always been with the purpose to attain a more actualized version of the Coptic Congress, while maintaining independence from the Church(s). Ironically, human rights advocacy for Coptic rights within Egypt would have been possible over one century ago, but the current political climate, the invasive imposition of Islamic tenets (via the constitution and laws), and targeting of activists of all types has made these efforts impossible inside the country.

The scope and norms of human rights worldwide have evolved greatly since the time of the original Coptic Congress, and thus the approach towards achieving equal citizenship has consequently developed, taking into account the numerous international organizations and charters Egypt has joined.

A primary difference between the era of the Coptic Congress and modern times is the near complete absence of a secular Coptic elite both inside and outside of Egypt. The type of Coptic elite who formerly served the community as archons no longer exist, except for charitable and strictly church-related activities. Those in the diaspora are living a generational transformation and the majority of their elite are tied to Coptic churches of various denominations who have often been co-opted by Egypt’s government. Egyptian intelligence services have invested heavily in influencing clergy and the elite of all churches in the diaspora in an effort to discredit and silence the few vocal Copts, and most especially Coptic Solidarity. Coptic Solidarity has been the target of numerous attempts to neutralize the efforts of the leadership and the mission of the organization.

  1. Modify the Constitution to remove Article-II and other references to Islamic sharia and jurisprudence.
  2. Institute affirmative action to ensure Copts have at least 10% presence in all governmental positions at all levels, including the Cabinet, diplomatic corps, the judiciary, military, police, academia, and national security agencies.
  3. Enact the anti-discrimination commission stipulated in the 2014 Constitution.
  4. Apply one, fair, legal system equally for all Egyptians. End the use of religion-specific laws such as the 2016 Church law that treats mosques and churches differently. End the preferential treatment for memorizers of Quran in military service and competitive openings.
  5. Remove the mention of religion from IDs and all formularies.
  6. If a uniform (secular) personal status law for all Egyptians were to be difficult to have in the immediate future, then adopt for non-Muslims laws that are in line with their respective canons and the needs specified by community councils.
  7. Allow all faiths to build houses of worship and practice their faith freely.
  8. Remove all “blasphemy laws” from Egypt’s penal code.
  9. Ensure Copts and athletes of other minority faiths are permitted to compete on national teams and to represent Egypt in international competitions such as the World Cup and Olympics
  10. Ensure equality and justice for Copts in the judiciary including prosecuting perpetrators of crimes against Copts to end impunity for those who attack Coptic persons, churches, businesses, and homes.
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