Egypt Recognizes Christmas as Holiday

Dec 21, 2002 12:17 PM EST

EGYPT - For the First time in Egypt's history, Christmas has been declared a national holiday. Put into effect beginning 2003, January 7, the Coptic Christmas, was made an official holiday by President Mubarak.

The declaration came 7 years after its first request, made in 1995 by Mamdouh Nakhla, the General Manager of the Word Centre for Human Rights.

"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," said Nakhla.

"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," he added.

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."

Though Christians represent about ten percent of the population of Egypt and the largest Church in the Middle East, numbering approximately seven to ten million, is in Egypt, Christian holidays were never recognized publicly. Egyptian Christians face severe discrimination in society, as do other religious minorities. It has been known for public examinations to be scheduled on Christian holidays, such as Christmas, and Easter. These practices served to marginalize Christians and other religious minorities, and in turn, built tensions between existing Muslim and Christian communities.

Stuart Windsor, National Director of CSW, remarked, "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."

By Paulina C.