An Egyptian headmistress is not being instated in her post “because she’s a Christian.”
This is the claim surrounding the case of Mervat Sefein, a vocational teacher in Beni Mazar, a town of Minya, 220 km south of Cairo.
Sefein was included on a Feb. 8 Egyptian Ministry of Education (MoE) promotion directive, but could not assume her new position due to “student protests.”
The other candidates named in the directive took up their new senior school posts across the province of Minya’s nine reginal centres, except for Sefein, whose promotion is still in limbo.
Since 2011, the Coptic teacher has been working as a deputy headmistress in Beni Mazar Boys Vocational School. But under the new directive, she was to move to a higher post in the town’s girls school.
When word spread that the Christian teacher was going to be headmistress, the girls went out protesting, demanding their current Muslim headmaster remain in the position.
Police were called in amid shouts, “We don’t want the Christian teacher!” claimed Christian news sources, suggesting the girls were goaded into this by “some with vested interest in keeping the situation as it is,” said Coptic news site Watani.
Through a compromise brokered by the education authorities, she was to be instead promoted at her current boys’ school. But then the same scenario was repeated, this time by the boys.
The Ministry of Education has denied this has anything to do with ‘sectarianism.’
“Other Christians were promoted. Staff, students and parents were almost unanimously opposed to Mervat taking up the post. Some of the more prominent opposing voices came from Christian fellow teachers at the school,” said MoE Minya Undersecretary Ramadan Abdulhamid.
“If there were any intention to exclude her as a Christian, her name would not have come up in the directive to start with,” added Abdulhamid, suggesting there was a number of complaints against her relating to a stint she spent as a headmistress at the girls school back in 2010.
“That time left some still bitter to date” he said on the Egyptian ’10PM’ chat show broadcast by mainstream Dream TV.
But Sefein strongly disagrees.
“I had been vetted by both security forces and the MoE before the decision to promote me was taken. No grounds were found then, none, to render me ineligible to the post,”
“Now that the girls (and later the boys) have protested–they don’t even know me! But a show was being put up, even before I came to take up post. Someone must have told them something,” said Sefein on both Dream TV and Watani. The latter suggested her predecessor, aiming to keep himself as headmaster, could be behind this.
World Watch Monitor could not ascertain the slogans used by the students during their protest were overtly anti-Christian, as claimed by some Egyptian media. However, a number of cases suggest prejudice on religious grounds continues to be rampant in the country.
A pattern of prejudice?
In April 2011, thousands protested and rioted in Qina, (580 km south of Cairo), forcing the authorities to rescind their earlier decision to appoint a Christian governor (Emad Mikhail) to the province.
Among the protests circulated on Youtube at the time were slogans such as, ‘Only a Muslim could govern us!’ and ‘No god but Allah! Mikhail the enemy of Allah!’
Copts complain of routine discrimination against them in government and other sectors.
In Egyptian schools, all students are forced to learn passages of the Quran by heart as part of Arabic classes, but Christians claim they lose marks unfairly during exams because their test papers ‘give them away’ for failing to mention the ‘bismallah’ – ‘the customary Islamic phrase, ‘In the name of Allah..’ – at the top of their answer sheets.
Last summer a controversy flared around a Christian high school ‘A’ student. Mariam Malak received a ‘zero’ mark in all subjects in her university admission exams. Mariam insisted her papers were tampered with. The case is still unresolved pending administrative court decisions, while Malak risks losing more time before she can continue her higher studies.
Further afield, the Egyptian Ahli top league football club chairman found it necessary last week (Feb. 27) to indicate to fans that the newly appointed Dutch football manager, Martin Jol, was not ‘Jewish’ but ‘Christian.’