As Egyptians voteon proposals for a new constitution, it is already a matter of disappointment to Coptic Christians that Article 2 – which states that Islam is the main source of legislation – has not been repealed. Now that a revolutionary wave is sweeping across the Arab world, Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s ambassador to Egypt, asks: is the revolution for all, or for Muslim Arabs alone? Read his piece in the Jerusalem Post:
The Middle East and North Africa are home to millions of national and religious minorities living under Arab occupation since the seventh century; they are still waiting for equality or fighting for independence. The Kurds are among the oldest peoples in the world, and they have kept their identity through centuries of Arab and Ottoman occupation.
Though Islamized, they have kept their language (Indo-European close to Persian), traditions and customs. Today their number is estimated at 25 million to 30 million, dispersed between Turkey (15 million), Iran (5 million), Iraq (5 million) and Syria (2 million).
They have been unsuccessfully fighting for independence since the breakdown of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I, and tens of thousands have been killed by the Turks and the Arabs. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein did not hesitate to use chemical weapons against them, and thousands died a painful death in the north of the country.
Saddam also implemented a displacement policy, driving Kurds away from their villages and from Kirkuk and bringing in Sunni Arabs.
Indeed, tensions run high today between the Kurdish autonomous region – set up by allied forces after the Gulf War to protect the Kurds against Saddam – and the Iraqi central government.
Three months ago political parties in that autonomous region proclaimed the right of self-determination for the Kurdish people, a clear call for independence.
There was no reaction from Arab governments and the West did not voice its support.
The Berbers, another people living under occupation in Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia, are considered the native North Africa population. Their name is derived from “barbarian” since, according to some, they spoke neither Latin nor Greek. Before the Arab conquest, they had a flourishing agricultural culture.
In their own tongue they call t h e m s e l v e s Amazigh and their language is Tamazight. They were Islamized and even played an important role in expending Islam in Spain but have always retained their original identity.
Since the North African countries gained independence in the 1960s, they have been resisting Arabization (preferring the French language) and fighting for the recognition of their distinct culture.
The Berbers in Algeria make up more than 20 percent of the population.
Many of them live in Kabylia and have managed to set up an active, strong independence movement. In 2010 they formed a government in exile in Paris, headed by Ferhat Mehenni, a Kabyle singer and activist. The event was mostly ignored by Western media and no government voiced its support, while Algeria intensified its repression.
In Morocco, where they comprise an estimated 40% of the population, there is an Amazigh movement asking for autonomy, but it gets no support from the West.
The Copts of Egypt are another minority subject to oppression and discrimination.
Their numbers are estimated at some 8 to 10 million, about 10% of the country’s population. They are the original people of Egypt – their name is derived from the Greek word for Egypt. They converted to Christianity in the fourth century and have kept their own language.
They are denied equal rights in their own country and are not allowed to hold significant positions such as provincial governor or head of a university. Their representation in parliament is limited and does not reflect their numbers. They cannot build churches freely; even restoration work needs special government approval.
Article 2 of the constitution stipulates that Islam is the religion of the state and that Islamic jurisprudence is the principal source of legislation.
There is no attempt to cancel this article in the proposals for a new constitution made by the consultative committee set up following the revolution.
Attacks against Copts have not abated since the revolution; a church was set ablaze and in the ensuing confrontation with Muslim militants, 13 Copts were killed and dozens wounded. While Egypt and the world rejoice at the fall of the regime, the fate of the Copts is in stark contrast to the spirit of the revolution and the hopes for democracy.
Christians in Iraq and in the Palestinian territories are also suffering from discrimination and aggression, and many have left to find a new life in West; the number of Christians in the Arab world is steadily decreasing.
Only two non-Arab peoples have managed to obtain their independence: the State of Israel in 1948, 1308 years after the Islamic conquest of the Holy Land, and South Sudan a few weeks ago, after 40 years of bitter war and more than 2 million dead. In neighboring Darfur Arab militias, aided and abetted by the Sudanese government, are still massacring non-Arab populations.
How is Israel affected by the revolutions? In Egypt, there was no mention of Israel at first.
With the fall of the regime, radical elements from the left and from the right have now free rein. There are voices calling for a revision of the peace treaty or even its cancellation. The sale of Egyptian gas, based on the treaty, is now called in question.
One can therefore legitimately ask whether revolutions calling for democracy do not ultimately arouse religious extremism and nationalism, bringing about hostility toward Israel instead of tolerance and openness – leading to recognition.