The People's Assembly called for the formation of a higher council for citizenship as a step to contain tension between Muslims and Christians, reports Gamal Essam El-Din
In a six-page report discussed on Sunday the People's Assembly urged the government to establish a higher council for citizenship with the objective of tackling "national unity problems and containing sectarian incidents between Muslims and Christians". The report, prepared by a joint parliamentary committee, assessed the findings of a fact-finding commission on the attack which left six Copts and a Muslim policeman dead outside a church in the southern city of Nagaa Hammadi on Coptic Christmas Eve. Speaker of the Assembly Fathi Sorour said the attack "not only wounded the Coptic community but all of Egypt".
"Let me stress," Sorour continued, "that this was an individual criminal act, like a clash between two brothers living in one home."
Sorour criticised those "who jump to hasty conclusions and exploit these incidents to associate Islam with terrorism and extremist thinking". He added that he could not help thinking that "the heinous crime of Nagaa Hammadi could be the result of a foreign conspiracy aimed at destabilising Egypt."
The Egyptian constitution guarantees equal rights for both Christians and Muslims, Sorour stressed. "Article 1 of the constitution clearly states that the political system of the Arab Republic of Egypt is based on citizenship, while Article 5 bans the foundation of political parties on a religious basis."
Praising President Hosni Mubarak, Sorour recalled how he had made Coptic Christmas -- 7 January -- a national holiday for all Egyptians.
Sorour launched a scathing attack on the European parliament which has announced that it will discuss the Nagaa Hammadi incident on 21 January. "This is blatant interference in internal Egyptian affairs," Sorour said. "Everyone should know that Copts are in no way a sectarian minority but form an integral part of Egyptian national cohesion."
"It is the duty of the Muslim majority to listen to the grievances of Copts while Copts should refrain from taking Nagaa Hammadi as evidence of sectarian strife in Egypt. We Muslims fully respect Copts not only because they are our national brethren but also because Islam teaches us to respect Christians."
The assembly's report insisted that "the Nagaa Hammadi attack was an individual act of revenge, which is something common among southerners in Upper Egypt". According to the report, "Mohamed El-Kammoni, an ex-convict with five previous arrests for attacks on both Muslims and Christians, is the prime suspect. The police investigation has made it clear that no religious or sectarian reasons incited El-Kammoni to commit the crime. El-Kammoni was deeply influenced by the rape of a 12-year- old Muslim girl by a Coptic youngman last November in nearby Farshout... The fact that a Christian boy distributed a CD containing images of the raped girl inflamed the situation."
Since his release from prison in 2004 El-Kammoni has not been implicated in any crimes. He worked as a bodyguard and was managing a gym.
The report cited Bishop Kirolos of Nagaa Hammadi, who said "Copts highly appreciate the role of Muslim leaders in spreading a climate of tolerance and in standing against those who do their best to shake the foundations of national unity between Muslims and Christians." The Bishop stressed that the Archbishop of Nagaa Hammadi had been the first to condemn the rape of a Muslim girl in Farshout.
Governor of Qena, Magdi Ayoub, stated in the report that "the Nagaa Hammadi act is an individual crime. If it was perpetrated for religious or sectarian reasons, we would be the first to announce this because it is not good at all that we keep anything about this crime secret."
The report criticised some satellite television channels and print media for inciting hatred and misleading citizens about the incident and urged the government to set up a higher council for citizenship. "This council, including members of the two houses of parliament -- the People's Assembly and Shura Council -- local councils, police officers and Muslim and Christian leaders, would be tasked with containing tension between Muslims and Copts and spreading a culture of tolerance."
The report met with a mixed reception from MPs. Georgette Qillini, appointed Coptic MP, launched a scathing attack against the report, insisting that "it is biased and reflects the point of view of security officials and the governor of Qena, even though he is a Copt himself." She described the attack as "a purely sectarian crime and by no means an individual criminal attack," she contends that the Copts of Nagaa Hammadi face persecution and suffer from fear and oppression and they pray to God that the governor of Qena be dismissed from his job". He is a security man and the fact that he is Coptic will not prevent me from attacking him and sharply criticising his security policies."
Qillini's words elicited an angry response from MPs, led by Sorour himself who accused Qillini of "exaggerating the incident" and of "trying to make herself a heroine". Sorour insisted that "regardless of the motives, the fact remains that this is an individual criminal act because it reflects the evil intentions of one person and not Egyptian society as a whole."
Ibtessam Habib, another appointed Coptic MP, urged the government to give a helping hand to Copts living in Nagaa Hammadi and its satellite villages. "Some of them left their homes for fear of revenge and I hope that the government will compensate them financially," said Habib. She also agreed with Qillini that "sectarian rather than personal motives lie behind the Nagaa Hammadi attack."
NDP MPs poured scorn on Qillini, sharply criticising her for "being quick to label the attack as sectarian." NDP spokesman Abdel-Ahad Gamaleddin lamented that "opening a debate about Nagaa Hammadi at the European parliament on 21 January will be blatant interference in the internal affairs of Egypt. Europeans would do better trying to contain Islamophobia and getting rid of the discrimination against Muslims in place since 11 September 2001."