The Egyptian Malaise

One way forward is for the state to deal with its people as full citizens regardless of their religion and honour their rights. Liberation, equality and democracy are interconnected. They have in common a concern with emancipation. The Interior Ministry said a foreign-backed suicide bomber may have been responsible. The circumstances of the attack, compared with other incidents abroad, “clearly indicates that foreign elements undertook planning and execution.” An al Qaeda-linked group in Iraq issued a threat against the Church in Egypt in November. A statement on an Islamist website posted about two weeks before the blast called for attacks on Egypt’s churches, listing among them the one hit. No group was named in the statement.

Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, said: ˜We are concerned that incidents of violence and terror against Christians in Egypt are increasingly spiralling out of control. They continue to go unchecked and unresolved, and their perpetrators are not brought to justice. This passiveness has sent out the message that Christians in Egypt are an easy and legitimate target. Today’s event demonstrates this and puts matters on a wholly new level.”

According to a report by the Freedom of Religion and Belief Program – Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, “˜The judiciary, particularly sitting judges, does not often hear cases of sectarian violence, and it is extremely rare for such crimes to be referred to trial. On the other hand, the Public Prosecutor’s role in dealing with the violence is shameful: although Egyptian law gives that office the prerogatives of investigating judges authorized to conduct immediate, independent investigations to identify the perpetrators and bring them to justice using evidence of their crimes to protect society from lawbreakers, the Public Prosecutor’s Office tends to aid the security establishment in imposing “reconciliation” procedures, even when these are against the law . . . At other times the Public Prosecutor conducts investigations for show that lack all evidence, which means that either the perpetrators are not identified or they are acquitted if they are referred to trial.” These shambolic procedures are not unique to cases of sectarian violence or Egypt and can be found in other Arab countries when dealing with civil unrest.The issue here is not who is responsible, but how the Egyptian government will deal with the attack and the perpetrators. Will they be imprisoned and tortured in the dark without public trial or will they be brought to justice? Will the affair be wrapped up and dealt with through archaic “reconciliation” rituals or conducted under the gaze and scrutiny of the national and international media? Will those responsible be held accountable and penalised openly, an example for others who contemplate such criminal acts?

Moreover, the growing problem of sectarian violence in Egypt cannot be dealt with in isolation. It is part and parcel of the states flagrant disregard for the International Bill of Human Rights and other human rights treaties, which Egypt is a signatory to. The state stopped applying such laws and treaties since it imposed emergency law  Egyptians are living under Emergency Law since, except for an 18-month break in 1980. The law has been continuously extended every three years since 1981. Under the law, police powers are extended, constitutional rights suspended and censorship non-approved political organizations, and unregistered financial donations are formally banned. Some 17,000 people are detained under the law, and estimates of political prisoners run as high as 30,000That has to change for terrorism whether home-grown or foreign to be uprooted. Al-Qaeda feeds on anger, frustration and resentment.Terrible incidents, like the Alexandria bombing, show the need for Egypt to move towards participatory democracy and respect for human rights. This would deal with the causes rather than the symptoms of terrorism. The shock and anger of the people on the street will no doubt turn into healthy opposition to the defunct establishment as it did in the past. Perhaps the lives of those who were killed in Alexandria would not be lost in vain. The attack might strengthen the Egyptians resolve and unite them. And this would show not only in opposing terrorism whoever its sponsor is and challenging those who are determined to splinter Egypt, but in voting out Mubarak in the next round of elections. A legitimate regime in tune with the needs of the people will be better equipped to snuff out terrorism and sectarianism.

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