Mubarak appoints women and Copts to PA

It's rather pathetic, but Mubarak has decided to the enormous imbalance in the composition of the People's Assembly by appointing five women and five Copts.

That means that out of six Coptic MPs, only one (Minister of Finance Youssef Boutros-Ghali) has been elected, and that election was fixed in 2000 and probably fixed again in 2005! For the women things are scarcely better, with only four actually elected to their posts (again, with one of them probably put in place by a fixed election.) In other words, rather than use its clout (preferably through legal and non-violent means) to put women in parliament, Mubarak's ruling party preferred to place them 'ashan al decor at the president's discretion. Before the elections, NDP leaders defended the decision not to field many Copts and women because they were more likely to lose. Perhaps that's true, but appointing them is not exactly a solution either.

The Egyptian press is now spreading reports of Coptic businessmen backing a non-religious party that would defend their interests. It's not clear whether that would be a Coptic party that would not be affiliated with the Church or a liberal party that would defend issues Copts feel strongly about (the latter would be a smarter choice), but considering that existing opposition parties are failing to rise to the occasion, it's not surprising some are looking for a new alternative. Prominent Coptic politician Mounir Fakhry Abdel Nour has now been kicked out of the Wafd and accused of fomenting a coup against autocratic leader Nomaan Gomaa, and he would be ideally placed to lead such a party. It's a shame that Egyptian society, however, does not seem to be ready to see a party headed by a non-Muslim today.

(n.b. I haven't seen the names of the appointed MPs yet, it's possible Abdel Nour is in that list.)

Incidentally, I meant to mention it a few days ago, but Mubarak also recently passed a presidential decree that changed the regulations on maintenance of churches in Egypt. Copts had long complained that the authorities did not allow them to easily make reparations to churches; under the new regulation -- in theory -- if they don't get an answer within three months they can go ahead and assume their request is approved. The construction of a new church, however, must be through presidential permission. This rule is a legacy of an Ottoman decree that restricted church-building; the whole thing is an anachronism and would better be rid of altogether in favor of normal construction and zoning laws that would govern all religious buildings (mosques are currently handled by the Ministry of Awqaf, or religious endowments). His move by Mubarak seems to be in response to the recently-held Coptic conference in Washington, where this issue was a major sticking point. One also wonders whether it's a point that was raised by Senator Chuch Hagel when he recently visited Mubarak, since I believe Hagel attended the conference. If so I find it rather ironic that a US senator would put pressure on Mubarak over churches but not, say, security forces blocking voters from entering polling stations.
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Issandr El Amrani

Issandr El Amrani is a Cairo-based writer and consultant. His reporting and commentary on the Middle East and North Africa has appeared in The Economist, London Review of Books, Financial Times, The National, The Guardian, Time and other publications. He also publishes one of the longest-running blog in the region, www.arabist.net.