Religious Discrimination Banned in Egypt

Cairo, Egypt - Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces has issued a decree fining anyone who practices discrimination, including religious discrimination, in an attempt to deflect negative attention towards Egypt’s military rule.

The decree was issued Sunday by Hussein Tantawi, Head of Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

The amended article 161 reads: “Anyone committing any action that could cause religious, sex, racial, or language discrimination among the individuals; or against a sect, shall be imprisoned to three months at least, and be fined from 30,000 EGP up to 50,000 EGP.”

The decree also contends that civil/public service employees who discriminate will be charged 100,000 Egyptian pounds.

Although somewhat of an advance towards a more unified Egypt in light of Cairo’s violent clashes on Sunday, Coptic Christians argue that this is but a small step on the way to religious tolerance.

“[The decree] wasn’t enough to ease sectarian tensions,” Ishaq Asaad, lawyer with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights told The Daily News Egypt.

“[It is a] limited but positive symbolic step,” contended Hafez Abu Saada, head of the Egyptian Human Rights Organisation.

Various countries have spoken out against Egypt’s sectarian community, arguing that it favours Muslims over Christians and pits the groups against each other.

The United States Commission of International Religious Freedom issued a statement on Tuesday, Oct. 11 requesting a “thorough, impartial, and independent investigation to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice in civilian courts.”

USCIRF also requests “that Egypt’s military forces are held accountable for reportedly using excessive force.”

In response to the ensuing violence, Germany’s foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle, commented: “It is about time that the Egyptian leadership understands the importance of religious plurality and tolerance."

Mourners are blaming the Egyptian army for the high death toll of 27 on Sunday, arguing that the Christian march was absolutely peaceful until the military started a crackdown. The ensuing clashes reportedly saw religious extremists join the attacks against the Christians, and even saw a military vehicle driven directly into crowds of protesters.

Some human rights activists reported military personnel firing directly into the crowd of protesters.

Violence erupted in Cairo a week ago when Christians gathered to protest against the burning of a Coptic church in Southern Aswan which took place on Sept. 30. The burning was carried out allegedly by local religious extremists who claimed the church did not have the license for the construction of a dome.

Christians are accusing both the state television and the military of making peaceful Christian protesters seem like the aggressors.

Egypt’s military leaders held an emergency conference with Christian leaders on Monday, Oct. 10 to discuss peace and compromise.

Concerned countries agree that the upcoming elections in Egypt are imperative to the future of the country, especially for those practicing Christianity in Egypt.

U.S. President Barack Obama has released a statement, urging peace and compromise “so that Egyptians can move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.”

According to reports, the current military tribunal which runs the government claims it will step down after the elections nominate a new leader.

“With parliamentary elections mere weeks away, the Egyptian government must promptly investigate, prosecute those responsible, and deter any future attacks,” said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo.

Christians make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million. Over recent months, Christians in the country have been anxious about their future in the country, as extremist groups which remained underground or inactive during the rule of the now ousted president Hosni Mubarak, became more socially and politically active following the fall of the regime in a “January 25 Revolution.”