By Engy Magdy, Special to The Tablet
In an initiative for equal citizenship, Egyptian President Abd al Fattah el Sisi has appointed two Coptic Christian governors, including a woman, in a governor reshuffle last week.
Manal Awad Mikhail was appointed governor of Damietta to become the first Coptic woman, and second female, in this post. The first-ever woman governor, Nadia Abdu, who was appointed Governor of Beheira in February of 2017, has been replaced by a man in the recent reshuffle which included 22 new governors of the country’s 27 governorates.
Kamal Gad Sharobim is the other Copt who was appointed as governor of Daqahlya. Although this isn’t the first time for an Egyptian president to appoint Copts in this position, a similar decision in 2011 was met with anger by Islamic extremists and ultra-conservative Salafi groups who refuse a Christian to preside over them.
In April 2011, during the supreme council of armed forces rule, the Prime Minister Essam Sharaf appointed Emad Mikhail as governor of Qena, however the government reversed the decision after thousands of Muslim protesters demonstrated outside the city’s mosques chanting against Mikhail and the prime minister.
Is It Enough
Many Copts praised the latest appointees as a step toward equal citizenship. However, some described it as a small step while the country needs radical steps toward elimination of discrimination and religious hatred.
“It is not a sign of changing the mentality and regime’s dealing with religious discrimination; it’s just a step in a long way,” said Ishak Ibrahim, religious freedoms researcher at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. He told The Tablet it would have been better if the president takes a step within the framework of a clear policy of equality and structural interventions to reform the status quo.
According to Article 53 of Egypt’s Constitution, the state shall take all necessary measures to eliminate all forms of discrimination, and the law shall regulate the establishment of an independent commission for this.
“We have long demanded the implementation of the constitution forming Commission for the Prevention of Discrimination, which is concerned with combating discrimination and regulating laws that criminalize discrimination in all its forms,” Ibrahim said.
Christians make up 10 to 20 percent of Egypt’s population of 100 million, though precise estimates of the number of Copts vary widely. They represent the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Christians in Egypt have long decried the discrimination and under-representation they face in top government positions, mainly in judiciary, army and security agencies.
“The political position is a good step, but it isn’t an indication of a major change in the high positions inside State administrative apparatus, or the mentality. As we saw in February 2016 in Minya governorate, that the appointment of a Christian manager in a school provoked sectarian rejection and violence,” he added.
Ibrahim agrees with Emad Gad, a member of the Egyptian House of Representatives and professor of political science at Cairo University, that the new appointments show that the matter just needs a political will to change, because when the state and government are keen to impose the law, they can – even if it’s against the Islamists’ will. They compared the last decision to reversing the appointment of the Christian governor of Qena in 2011.
“The importance of the decision is that he (the president) appointed two Christians in provinces that do not have a large percentage of Christians,” Gad told The Tablet. “Also, Dakahlia governorate is one of the largest provinces in Egypt, most importantly he broke the fear of the Islamists and appointed a Christian woman.”
Gad said that choosing Mikhail is based on efficiency.
“I know Manal Mikhail, she was a deputy governor of Giza and proved successful in her previous position, where she made extensive efforts in the fight against slums and development,” he said.
“We reject the principle of quota … executive position is something that has nothing to do with religion, it’s all about efficiency.”
Gad sees that “Mr. Sisi is taking steps no Egyptian president has taken before. However, his efforts are colliding with reactionary forces and parts of the state apparatus which operate in the old way.
“I can say that Mr. Sisi has made a lot of changes, both publicly and behind the scenes, there are policies to taming the deep state, including those with extremist tendencies,” he said.
“He has recently made a lot of changes in the security apparatus and there are many new faces that have loyalty toward him.”