The following are excerpts from articles which appeared in the Egyptian English weekly, “Al-Ahram” of Al-Ahram Weekly 26th March – 1st April 1998

“Coptic MP Slams Expats”
by Gamal Essam El-Din

[Heading:] A Coptic MP has taken expatriate Copts to task for attempting to interfere in the domestic affairs of Christians

Edward Ghali El-Dahabi, a prominent lawyer and a member of the People’s Assembly, has accused Coptic expatriates living in the United States of attempting to interfere in the internal affairs of Egyptian Christians and impose their will on them, reports Gamal Essam El Din. Rejecting a move by a group of expatriates to organise a campaign against the alleged persecution of Copts, El-Dahabi said that Egyptians, both Muslims and Christians, are bound by ” strong national unity that knows no discrimination.”

In a statement delivered before the Assembly on Monday, El-Dahabi affirmed that “those who are trying to incite foreigners to interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs are, in fact, stabbing Copts in the heart.”

El-Dahabi drew the assembly’s attention to press reports that the US Congress planned to debate a new law opposing the religious persecution of minorities throughout the world. The law, he said, is expected to gain Congressional approval next month.

“I want to emphasis that what saddens Copts are these attempts to interfere in their affairs and being described as a minority,” he said. “Egyptian Copts are ready to talk to those who wish to talk to them. If they have some demands, or face some problems, they have to raise them, but only within the framework of national unity.”

… El-Dahabi also quoted Pope Shenoudah III, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, as saying, “We are Egyptians, forming a part of the people of Egypt. We neither call ourselves a minority nor do we like others to call us a minority.”

Police Unfazed by Minya Attacks”
by Omayma Abdel-Latif

[Heading:] Acting possibly out of desperation, Islamist militants staged their first attacks in southern Egypt since Luxor

After a lull of several months, Islamist militants went on the offensive again in southern Egypt, staging twin attacks last Sunday in Minya province that left four policemen killed and 13 citizens injured.

… A security source said Sunday’s attacks were the militants’ response to the killing of eight of their number in two clashes with police during the previous two weeks. The attacks, he said, are a desperate attempt by the militants to prove that they still exist.

Despite Sunday’s attack, there were obvious signs that the momentum of daily life had picked up again in Mallawi, previously a hotbed of terrorism. The town’s main thoroughfare bustled with commercial activity and security measures were not as visible as in the past. A local lawyer said: “Until a few months ago our good morning salute was to enquire who was killed the previous night and where the sound of bullets came from. But now the tension has eased a lot.”

“Soapbox — Democracy’s Armies”
by Amir Salem,
Lawyer and Director of the Legal Research and Resource Centre for Human Rights

Despite many rumours that a new law on civil associations is under preparation, the government remains silent. Such a law would be a true litmus test of the government’s intentions towards democratisation in the country and the degree to which it is willing to uphold its commitments to international human rights standards and, indeed, the Egyptian Constitution. The current law governing civil associations, Law 32 of 1964, was always intended as an instrument for tightening state control over civil society and abrogating freedoms of association and organisation. Law 32 gives the government, and in particular the Ministry of Social Affairs, sweeping and arbitrary powers over every form of civic association in the country. Government bodies have the right to dissolve associations, merge them, confiscate their funds and/or allocate them to other associations, dissolve their governing boards and appoint new ones…

… Ultimately, the real question is participatory democracy. Democracy is an indivisible process. Defective democracy only encourages military or religious alternatives. Only through democracy are people empowered to protect themselves, provided they are aware and organised. It is only through true democracy that political and religious extremism can be contained, and the possibility of chaos deterred.

What We Paid For
by Hani Shukrallah,
Managing Editor

I have very little knowledge of the intricacies of law, and more specifically, where the law draws the line between the free expression of opinion, criticism and debate, on the one hand, and slander or libel, on the other. Nevertheless, I find it very difficult to imagine a country achieving any kind of progress in its political life, sciences, art or literature, if that country’s citizens do not enjoy a “sacred” right to describe each other, and each other’s ideas, as foolish, ignorant or any similar epithet, whether fairly or unfairly. Yet, two Cairo courts, one of them a Court of Appeal, have found such designations sufficient reason to consign Gamal Fahmi, a journalist, in prison for six months.

Thus, in the space of less than a month we have three journalists in prison, serving sentences ranging from six to 12 months, for libel offenses. In statements to Al-Ahram Weekly… Press Syndicate Chairman Makram Mohamed Ahmed remarked with bitter sarcasm that he hoped the prison ward accorded to journalists “is large enough”, since there are some 60 cases currently before the courts in which journalists are charged in connection with libel offenses.

The total absurdity of the libel laws in Egypt stands exposed. And so do the limits of our own democratic resolve and convictions. Just two years ago journalists were basking in the glory of their “heroic” battle for press-freedom. For a full year they fought against the “infamous” Law 93 and won. Or did they?

… The imprisonment of three journalists for libel offenses exposes the limits of the journalists’ “victory” in defending democratic liberties and press freedom two years ago. And so does the host of measures recently adopted in the clamp-down on “yellow journalism”. But both expose the limits of the journalists’ commitment to democratic principles. We pay for what we get.