Concern about 'too little, too early' Egyptian referendum

By staff writers
March 22, 2011

Representatives of Egypts 4 million Coptic Christians have joined other minority groups in expressing concern about hasty constitutional change in Egypt.

Following the removal of President Hosni Mubarak, as a result of the 'people power' uprising in the populous North African country, the authorities moved ahead swiftly with a 'yes' or 'no' referendum on limited constitutional reform.

But women's organisations, churches and other minority groups are concerned that their interests and status will not be properly protected under the new arrangements.

Though the popular revolt against Mubarak brought all sections of Egyptian society together, regardless of religion, the referendum campaign saw hard-line Islamists telling people that a 'no' vote would be an anti-Muslim one.

"The new constitution is an invitation to tyranny," a Globe and Mail editorial declared. "The emergency law power would be circumscribed, but not eliminated. There are few new limits on presidential power."

Jurist Tarek El-Beshri, head of the military-appointed committee of legal experts that drafted the amendments, confirmed to Al Ahram Weekly: “We were only amending previously amended articles of the constitution. We were not amending the constitution. It is a temporary constitution that will apply for a year or perhaps a little more.”

But critics say that a pliant parliament now has too much power in shaping the constitutional framework, and that the lack of safeguarding may continue.

Coptic Church leaders had advised a 'no' vote in the referendum. But the great majority of Egyptians went the other way.

The outcome has been characterised as "too little, too early".

Elections will proceed in about three months time. But apart from Hosni Mubarak's discredited NDP, the only political organisation that is likely to be ready is the Muslim Brotherhood.

"There just isn't sufficient time for others to organise and mount a campaign," a regional observer told Ekklesia.

Christians continue to be under pressure in Egypt. The Coptic Church of Saint George and Saint Mina, located in the Soula village of Atfeeh, part of Giza Province, and less than an hour's drive from the famous Tahrir Square in Cairo, was attacked by mobs earlier in the month, for example.

Despite an army presence, the church was burned to the ground.

"It is bizarre that the same army was aggressive enough to use live ammunition against peaceful, unarmed monks at Saint Beshouy Monastery back on 26 February, but not intervene here," an Al Kalema Centre spokesperson said.

"Christian Copts are being subjected to mob attacks and their lives and properties are endangered because of the lack of security."

The Al Kalema Centre has called on international and human rights organisations to stand by the Copts.


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