Arab West Report Middle East Published Articles

Hala Shukrallah: The First Coptic and First Female Head of a Political Party in Egypt

Hala Shukralla

From my recent article at Arab West Report, an interview with Hala Shukrallah of the Constitution (Dostour) Party:

Congratulations on your election as party leader, which as a Copt and as a woman is historic and unprecedented in Egypt. What does it mean both for the party and the country?

It represents a definite step forward, for at a conscious level people have not seen it as significant. A few years back this would not have been possible. The divide was not only visible, but vocalized. It would have created a backlash and instigated an attack, especially utilizing these two factors – woman and Copt.

That this was a non-issue within the party was very significant. It was not a focus at all during elections, showing that the party itself stopped perceiving these elements as a divide between people.

In society, it is another issue altogether. When we are speaking about our party we are speaking about a majority of young people. They have gone through a revolution – two revolutions – and have really changed so much of their thinking. You can understand why these things have stopped meaning so much to them.

But if you look at the way society has accepted this, and even celebrated it, this also is very significant. It shows there is a majority within society that wants to see change.

Your election was also celebrated by the Coptic community at large, which itself has gone through two revolutions and witnesses a divide between its youth and elders. How do you describe the Coptic electorate? As a citizen and voter, what is the average Copt like?

Especially since the 1970s, the Coptic sector in Egypt has been very aware there is a growing conservative element that perceives them as ‘the other’. What they have done is take a step backwards and basically hide in their own community. They have ghettoized, in a way, in the arms of the church, which has been speaking on their behalf.

From my point of view this is dangerous. I understand why they have done it, but they perceive themselves as a bloc, allowing the church to speak on their behalf, and therefore society continues to see them as a bloc, and not as individuals or citizens.

We have gone through this cycle over and over again, but it was broken on the 25th of January, when for the first time they went out into the streets and joined demonstrations. They began to protest as citizens. This was a turning point, very visible and vocal, with Muslims and Christians in Tahrir Square holding hands as citizens.

Pictures of the cross and crescent together became very important symbolism that became ingrained in the minds of Egyptians over the last three years. This has made a difference and left its mark on us.

But with the advent of the Muslim Brotherhood there was an effort to roll back this progress made in the first year of the revolution. Citizenship was debated, whether we can give minorities rights, but maybe not all rights, and so on. The discourse excluded some sectors from being full-fledged citizens. But with their growth and that of the fundamentalist movements there has been a withdrawal, once more, of Copts into the church. And the church is again speaking on their behalf.

Please click here to read the full interview at Arab West Report.



Friday Prayers for Egypt: Building, Barring Opposition

Flag Cross Quran


While it is still early in choosing Egypt’s next president, there is also not much time left. The first round is scheduled for May 26-27, giving little over a month to the two candidates who have collected the necessary endorsement signatures: Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Hamdeen Sabbahi.

Sisi is the overwhelming favorite, and though Sabbahi benefits from name recognition and revolutionary pedigree, it is not anticipated he will do well.

The Constitution Party, however, has given him a boost. One of the central liberal parties formed after the revolution, its membership has chosen to endorse him. Their vote was overwhelming; Sisi took only ten percent with a dissenting thirty percent opting for boycott.

But like many parties, their social reach is yet undetermined. Their members are activists, and they represent a revolutionary perspective that has been increasingly questioned by the average Egyptian.

You know, God, if they act from principle. And you know further if Egypt needs to build strong parties regardless. But aid Egypt in the creation of a system that channels activism into polity. Through this party or others, through any and all candidates, translate legitimate partisanship into national benefit.

At the same time, some partisanship has been deemed illegitimate. An Alexandria court has forbidden Muslim Brotherhood candidacies in the elections.

In concept this is not new; under Brotherhood influence, among others, many members of the old ruling regime were similarly barred. The tables have now turned.

You know, God, if they act from principle. And you know further if Egypt needs a restriction on religious parties in general, or on the Brotherhood in particular. But aid Egypt in the societal conversation about the relation between religion and politics, between Islam and the state. Through Islamists or others, through any and all candidates, asses the virtues of religion within acceptable political benefit.

But it is not just Islam in question. Some Christian clergy have indicated political preference, while some Christian activists are building opposition. The pope of the church supports the current crackdown, while ‘the preacher of the revolution’ is on a hunger strike.

Religion can complicate politics, God, but politics is needed. Politics can dirty, while religion can clean, but both are subject to corruption. Both, also, can enable great good.

So in the coming president, God, may good be witnessed. But moreover, establish this good in the choosing. Create parties that will represent society and hold authorities accountable, even as they produce them.

May a ruling party govern strongly, and may an opposition challenge powerfully. In both, help Egyptians to choose wisely.

Build many, God, and bar few. While there is always time, there is precious little. Create the Egyptians you desire to strengthen this country.