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Egypt’s new constitution and religious minorities’ rights: Prospects of improvement? 

The longstanding issue of discrimination against religious minorities has worsened in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, even more so since the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi in July 2013. The Copts, by far the largest minority representing 6-9% of the population, have faced violent retaliation from Muslim Brotherhood (MB) supporters, who accuse Christians of being behind the coup. This is taking place in a general climate of impunity, fuelled by insufficient reactions by the security forces which fail to tackle sectarian violence.

© gracel21 / Fotolia

In this tense situation, the new constitution, approved by referendum on 14-15 January 2014, has been welcomed by the majority of Copts as offering them better protection than the previous charter, adopted under Muslim Brotherhood rule. Indeed some highly criticised provisions, such as the article on blasphemy or the broad definition of Sharia principles (although still the main source of law) were eliminated. Furthermore the Copts managed to have included in the new charter the promise of a law on church construction and renovation, to be adopted by the new legislature. But Islam remains the state religion. This, coupled with the weak implementation of existing provisions protecting minorities, including a lack of punishment of perpetrators of sectarian violence, leaves room for further discriminatory practices and sectarian unrest. Moreover, smaller religious minorities do not benefit from the existing protection which covers only Coptic Christians and Jews (of which there are only some 70 in the country in any case).

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