Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Activists call appointments of women, minorities "fig-leaf"

Source: IRIN

CAIRO, 14 December (IRIN) - The appointment of five women and five Coptic Christians to parliament on 13 December will do little to address the fundamental problem of political exclusion, say activists.

The Egyptian constitution stipulates that 444 seats of the 454-member People's Assembly are elected. The remaining 10 seats, meanwhile, are reserved for representatives appointed by the executive (The president).

Long-time President Hosni Mubarak has traditionally used this clause to increase the parliamentary representation of women and minorities.

Female and Coptic candidates made generally dismal showings in the parliamentary elections that ended on 8 December. Only one Copt, finance minister Yusef Boutros Ghali, and four women won seats

The ruling National Democratic Party (NDP), which won a two-thirds majority in parliament, nominated only two Coptic and six women candidates.

Minority exclusion

Youssef Sidhoum, editor of the Coptic weekly "Watani", described the move by President Hosni Mubarak as a "cosmetic measure," opining that, "Copts have been subject to a lot of marginalisation in the last three decades."

Paltry political representation of Copts, he added, was indicative of "the sick culture that prevails and still dictates that a Coptic candidate has a weaker chance" of being elected.

Sidhoum went on to note that ballots were cast mostly along religious lines. "Copts will only elect a Coptic candidate and Muslims will only elect Muslims," he said.

Coptic writer and intellectual Milad Hanna agreed in calling the appointments an "artificial" form of representation. "None of those nominated is a genuine leader of the Coptic community," he said.

Little more than "stooges" of the government, the appointees will be "unlikely to challenge current policies," Hanna added.

Copts were occasionally the victims of violent reprisals by Islamist groups in southern Egypt in the 1990s, and many say they continue to be subject to official discrimination.

According to Sidhoum, Copts have "withdrawn from the public sector and public service and political participation" over the last several years

Discrimination against women

Negal al-Qumsan, director of the Egyptian Centre for Women's Rights, said that three of Mubarak's female appointees were relative unknowns: "The president nominated them based on what? What are their ideas? What is their role? We don't know," she said.

Women's rights groups have criticised all of the Egyptian political parties for failing to support female candidates.

We're extremely unhappy with this result," said National Women's Council Secretary General Farkhonda Hassan. "The parties didn't nominate enough women. The people didn't vote for women."
According to al-Qumsan, political parties failed to challenge the widespread discrimination regularly faced by women.
She recounted how party leaders had told her: "We'll lose if we nominate women."


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