Enable prisoners to work off their debts



Sometimes, through no fault of their own - perhaps by losing a job or receiving unexpected bills - people end up owing more money than they can pay back. But, unless you have brought it on yourself by behaving recklessly or fraudulently, bankruptcy should not make you a criminal.

As we have noted on these pages before, UAE law is tough on people who bounce cheques or accumulate unpayable bills. Do it, and you will go to jail until you can settle the debt - and that could mean you languish behind bars longer than thief.

Prisons serve a necessary role in the community, not least by keeping criminals apart from the rest of us. Motivated inmates can learn a skill or acquire an education that will serve them well on the outside. But one thing you can't currently do in jail is earn money to pay off a debt.

Not everyone with unpaid bills goes to jail, however. Some flee the country before that happens. Either way, creditors don't get repaid.

Some good news has come to light following discussions between the attorney general of Dubai Courts and officers of the Indian Embassy, which has expressed concern about the high number - about 1,300 - of its nationals in UAE prisons for unpaid debt.

As The National reported yesterday, India's Ambassador MK Lokesh has said that there was already "some movement in the Government to make amendments to the bankruptcy laws". While the specifics are not yet available, this might allow prisoners to perform paid work and to use their earnings to pay off their debts.

This is surely a move in the right direction. If it means fewer people are in jail, society wins by not having to bear the cost of supporting them. Presumably the work the prisoners undertake will also have some benefit to the nation. There will be savings, too, and benefits for inmates who will be able to earn the chance for freedom.

None of this trivialises the offences of those who have broken the law, or changes the fact that people must be held accountable for their debts.

No one is advocating a "get out of jail free" card, just a measure that provides a light at the end of the tunnel for people with little or no hope. Prison is not a good way to deal with debt and, pending broad reforms of debt collection and bankruptcy laws, the proposal offers one solution.

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UAE currency: the story behind the money in your pockets
Attacks on Egypt’s long rooted Copts

Egypt’s Copts belong to one of the world’s oldest Christian communities, with Mark the Evangelist credited with founding their church around 300 AD. Orthodox Christians account for the overwhelming majority of Christians in Egypt, with the rest mainly made up of Greek Orthodox, Catholics and Anglicans.

The community accounts for some 10 per cent of Egypt’s 100 million people, with the largest concentrations of Christians found in Cairo, Alexandria and the provinces of Minya and Assiut south of Cairo.

Egypt’s Christians have had a somewhat turbulent history in the Muslim majority Arab nation, with the community occasionally suffering outright persecution but generally living in peace with their Muslim compatriots. But radical Muslims who have first emerged in the 1970s have whipped up anti-Christian sentiments, something that has, in turn, led to an upsurge in attacks against their places of worship, church-linked facilities as well as their businesses and homes.

More recently, ISIS has vowed to go after the Christians, claiming responsibility for a series of attacks against churches packed with worshippers starting December 2016.

The discrimination many Christians complain about and the shift towards religious conservatism by many Egyptian Muslims over the last 50 years have forced hundreds of thousands of Christians to migrate, starting new lives in growing communities in places as far afield as Australia, Canada and the United States.

Here is a look at major attacks against Egypt's Coptic Christians in recent years:

November 2: Masked gunmen riding pickup trucks opened fire on three buses carrying pilgrims to the remote desert monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor south of Cairo, killing 7 and wounding about 20. IS claimed responsibility for the attack.

May 26, 2017: Masked militants riding in three all-terrain cars open fire on a bus carrying pilgrims on their way to the Monastery of St. Samuel the Confessor, killing 29 and wounding 22. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

April 2017: Twin attacks by suicide bombers hit churches in the coastal city of Alexandria and the Nile Delta city of Tanta. At least 43 people are killed and scores of worshippers injured in the Palm Sunday attack, which narrowly missed a ceremony presided over by Pope Tawadros II, spiritual leader of Egypt Orthodox Copts, in Alexandria's St. Mark's Cathedral. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks.

February 2017: Hundreds of Egyptian Christians flee their homes in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, fearing attacks by ISIS. The group's North Sinai affiliate had killed at least seven Coptic Christians in the restive peninsula in less than a month.

December 2016: A bombing at a chapel adjacent to Egypt's main Coptic Christian cathedral in Cairo kills 30 people and wounds dozens during Sunday Mass in one of the deadliest attacks carried out against the religious minority in recent memory. ISIS claimed responsibility.

July 2016: Pope Tawadros II says that since 2013 there were 37 sectarian attacks on Christians in Egypt, nearly one incident a month. A Muslim mob stabs to death a 27-year-old Coptic Christian man, Fam Khalaf, in the central city of Minya over a personal feud.

May 2016: A Muslim mob ransacks and torches seven Christian homes in Minya after rumours spread that a Christian man had an affair with a Muslim woman. The elderly mother of the Christian man was stripped naked and dragged through a street by the mob.

New Year's Eve 2011: A bomb explodes in a Coptic Christian church in Alexandria as worshippers leave after a midnight mass, killing more than 20 people.