In the past Christian religious festivals have not been designated as public holidays, despite the fact that Christians represent about ten percent of the population of Egypt.
It has even been known for public examinations, such as University examinations, to be scheduled for days such as Christmas Day and Easter Sunday is still not an official public holiday. This kind of practice has served to make Christians and other religious minorities feel marginalized as second-class citizens.
Mamdouh Nakhla, General Manager of the Word Centre for Human Rights, based in Cairo, first requested the government to make Christmas Day an official holiday in 1995. He told CSW: ?We welcome President Mubarak?s decision to consider January 7 an official holiday for all Egyptians. There is no doubt that this is a wise decision putting things on the right track and strengthening national unity.
?We believe this is a brave decision which should be followed by other brave steps such as abolishing the Hamayouni Decree and removing religious affiliation from ID cards. Steps such as these would help to ensure that there is no discrimination between Egyptian citizens on religious grounds and Egypt would truly become a nation for all its citizens.?
A spokesperson for the Egyptian Organisation for Human Rights said: ?We regard this decree as a positive step towards achieving harmony and homogenization between Muslims and Copts before the State. We commend the essence of the decree which demonstrates respect for the right to religious worship and the right of full citizenship for all Egyptians.?
Egypt is home to the largest Church in the Middle East, numbering approximately seven to ten million. Egyptian Christians face discrimination in a number of areas of civil society, including public sector employment, education, the construction and maintenance of places of worship and the status of converts from Islam. Religious minorities are generally under-represented in Egyptian government. Communal tensions existing between Muslim and Christian communities have often led to violence and during such episodes, police negligence or complicity has frequently gone unquestioned and unpunished.
Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, said: ?We are delighted that such an important religious festival has been given the recognition it deserves by the state of Egypt. We hope that this initiative will be the prelude to further changes aimed at giving Christians and other religious minorities their full rights as citizens of Egypt.
?We would like to take this opportunity to wish President Mubarak and all the citizens of Egypt a very happy Christmas and a peaceful New Year.?
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