Egypt's Discrimination Problem

By Danny Stoker

This weekend's attacks against two Coptic Christian churches in Tanta and Alexandria that left 44 dead and dozens more injured was roundly condemned by Egyptians. These attacks and the extreme bigotry and hatred behind them are not representative of the Egypt I came to know and love while living there. However, it would be foolish to deny the lesser and more accepted discrimination against Coptic Christians that exists in the country. Like most things in this world, sectarianism exists on a spectrum. On one end is the extreme form harbored by the so-called Islamic State that carried out this weekends attacks and on the far end is the ideal where people of all faiths are treated equally.

Legal and social discrimination against Coptic Christians is far more common than most Egyptians feel comfortable with admitting. Too few Egyptians Muslims are bothered enough with this discrimination and bigotry to speak out on their behalf. Moderate and Discriminatory attitudes towards Egypt's Christians and other non-Muslims have created an incubator where more extreme views are born. Timothy Kaldas, of the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Peace framed this much more eloquently than me when he said:

And many of the Muslim Egyptians who will look at the photos of Sunday’s victims with sadness and sympathy on another day will use the expression maseehy bas kwayis (Christian, but good), as though goodness is out of the ordinary among Christians. This deeply embedded discriminatory view is at the heart of a not-so-quiet bigotry that forms the bedrock upon which violent extremism can be built on by terrorist groups like ISIS, which has claimed responsibility for the attack (though CNN has yet to confirm it). The official participation of the state in this bigotry helps reinforce it.
— Timothy Kaldas, "Egyptians Mourn, but Will they Understand" CNN

Despite the role that lesser forms of discriminatory attitudes in fostering those more extreme views of groups like the Islamic State and its affiliates, President Sisi and Egyptian officials will continue to support policies that restrict Christians and other non-Muslims rights to build houses of worship, that fail to protect non-Muslims from work discrimination, and that place Muslims ahead of non-Muslims in government, work, and school and the status-quo described below will continue.

Despite proclamations of equality by the state, a Copt has never been an equal Egyptian citizen in the eyes of the law. Egyptian laws are, in fact, designed to remind him of his second-class nature. For him, building a church remains a herculean task. He must follow Islamic inheritance laws, and cannot adopt children. Egypt’s blasphemy laws almost exclusively target him. Legally, he is not barred from being appointed to any position. But functionally, this is the reality. The exclusion of Copts from important government positions is pervasive: The current government has only one Coptic minister, and not a single Copt serves as a governor, university president, or university dean. An unofficial one percent quota for Copts is maintained in the military, police, judiciary, and foreign service, while no single Copt is allowed in the state security or intelligence services. Even his history is not immune to discrimination, with Coptic history and the contributions of Copts to Egypt through the centuries excluded from the country’s textbooks.
— Samuel Tadros, "The Actual War on Christians." The Atlantic