Egypt: Promotion and protection of the identity of religious minorities
Thank you Mr. Chairman for the opportunity for this intervention.
My name is Mamdouh Nakhla and I work as the head of Alkalema center for Human Rights, an organization concerned with the prevention of religious and ethnic discrimination in Egypt. I belong to the Coptic minority, which makes up 17 million of the total population of 87 million, about 20 per cent, and is considered the largest minority in the region.
The Coptic sect is the Egyptian Christians from the Orthodox faith who are the descendants of the ancient Egyptians who lived in the Nile Valley in 3000 B.C. They were speaking the Coptic language until the entry of the Arabs, when they were forced to use the Arabic language; despite this the Coptic language is still used in churches and prayers today.
Copts suffer from marginalization, exclusion and discriminatory practices, such as their prevention from building, rebuilding or maintaining houses of worship built since the 1950s. This has woefully increased after January 25th 2011, and then since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood
Copts are exposed to daily attacks by fundamentalists, their churches and their property demolished forcing them to leave their lands and homes. Despite this persecution of the Copts, the perpetrators have not been arrested and even those who have been arrested were released due to impunity.
In most cases, Copts are forced to accept reconciliation with offenders without a fair trial.
Therefore, we recommend the Forum to establish a thematic mandate of competence towards the situation of religious minorities in North Africa and the Middle East, especially for those minorities who are exposed to the risk of vanishing, or being forcibly displaced from their original homeland.
We also recommend to the Egyptian government the following:
Drafting an explicit text in the new constitution to respect all religions and beliefs and the right to practice religion and establish and maintain worship houses, with protection. Even if there is an official religion of the State, this cannot be a basis for discrimination against the rights of followers of other religions.
Reconsider redrafting domestic legislation in line with the provisions of the Universal Declaration of the Rights of Persons aligning themselves to national, ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities.
Cancellation of all the customary meetings and activation of statutory law, including not forcing the Copts to accept reconciliation in cases of attacks on their lives, property, worship houses and charitable institutions, with harsher punishment in cases of religious discrimination.
Withdrawal of all reservations to treaties and protocols, ratified by Egypt under the pretext of conflict with the provisions of Islamic law, as long as this is not in conflict with international peace and security.
Commitment to the voluntary pledges to ratify the individual complaint mechanism, before United Nations bodies, which have been approved during the UPR in its 13th session.
In conclusion, I thank the High Commissioner for Human Rights and MRG International for their efforts to promote the rights of minorities in the countries of the Middle East.
UN Minority Forum in Geneva, 26 November 2013
Image: Mamdouh Nakhla