A Statement by Coptic Solidarity –
February 6, 2017
President Trump now has a golden opportunity to reset US relations with Egypt making human rights a high priority while simultaneously supporting Egypt’s fight against terrorism. Egyptian President El-Sisi was the first foreign leader to call and congratulate Mr. Trump on winning the presidential election, signaling Egypt’s eagerness to form a strong relationship with the new president. Coptic Solidarity applauds Mr. Trump’s declared intentions to combat terrorism and provides here recommendations for the new U.S. administration urging it to formulate a comprehensive foreign policy approach towards Egypt, which incorporates U.S. priorities without sacrificing human rights to trade or national security.
Coptic Solidarity makes the following recommendations:
- On January 9th, U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz Balart (R-FL) introduced a bill (H.R. 377) to require the Secretary of State to submit a report to Congress on the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization. The following day, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) introduced an identical bill (S. 38) in the Senate titled The Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act. Coptic Solidarity launched a grassroots campaign for supporters to contact their U.S. Senators and Representatives in support of this critical legislation. Securing the foreign terrorist designation would delegitimize the Muslim Brotherhood’s political activities in the United States, impose sanctions on funding, and provide a first step in reversing a U.S. culture that has evolved to accept Islamist activities and propaganda even to the detriment of U.S. interests, and that of Egypt and many other nations around the world. Coptic Solidarity urges for speedy passage of the bill and its enactment into law by president Trump.
- The newly passed Frank Wolf International Religious Freedom Act 2016 amends the 1998 bill, which establishes for the U.S. government a framework that makes religious freedom an official and integral part of U.S. foreign policy. It also requires the Ambassador At Large for International Religious Freedom (IRF) to report directly to the Secretary of State. Although this was the intent of the original bill, it was diluted by previous administrations, which lowered the role of the Ambassador for IRF to report to an undersecretary within the State Department. The IRF Act has not been integrated fully into U.S. foreign policy as Congress intended. President Trump now has the opportunity and clear mandate to raise the profile and role of this ambassadorship to assist in creating more effective U.S. foreign policy that simultaneously addresses national security and improves human rights worldwide. Coptic Solidarity urges President Trump to quickly fill this vacancy with a qualified candidate.
- In Sep. 2016, the Egyptian government issued a new church construction law that is supposed to be an improvement over the old law. However, the new law has many loopholes, which could be used to obstruct issuing permits for building new churches or renovating old ones. There is a real need to monitor the implementation of the new Egyptian church construction law. Coptic Solidarity urges the U.S. government to monitor the implementation of the new Egyptian Church construction law. It is critical that the next International Religious Freedom Report on Egypt published by the State Department include a section on how the Egyptian government is implementing the new law, including the numbers of construction permits granted relative to the number requested, time taken to grant a permit, among other parameters that could help to close these loopholes in the future.
- The recent increase in attacks against Copts has been dramatic and reached a new high in 2016, from the bombing at St. Peter and Paul Church in Cairo (located within the premises of the seat of the Coptic Patriarch), to the Copts whose throats were slit simply because of their faith by violent Islamists. Coptic Solidarity calls on Trump’s administration to give a high priority to ensuring justice for Copts in any meeting with Egyptian government officials.
The modern wave of violence against Copts, which started in the nineteen-eighties, has been escalating and condoned by Egyptian government officials. Hateful religious speech, which underlies the violence, has become a rampant phenomenon in media outlets and in mosques, and even permeates educational curricula. Thousands of Copts have lost their lives, had their property damaged, had families dislocated from their ancestral villages, and endured women and girls kidnapped or lured and forcibly converted to Islam. The vast majority of perpetrators of this violence are not brought to justice and victims of the violence are not compensated for their losses. This has created a culture of impunity and effectively leads to more attacks. The U.S. government should raise this problem of impunity with the Egyptian government and follow-up on specific cases such as that of the elderly woman, Soad Thabet, who was stripped and paraded naked through town by some Muslims only to have the local court dismiss the case against her attackers despite ample evidence and witnesses. Coptic Solidarity recommends that a percentage (no less than 10%) of U.S. economic aid to Egypt be dedicated to compensate Coptic victims of violence by Islamists on their lives or properties. Coptic Solidarity also urges the State Department to include in its annual International Religious Freedom Report on Egypt, data on how many individuals have been prosecuted and held to account for their crimes against Copts. This would bring much needed attention to the problem of impunity for those who commit violence against Copts and their property.
- In this context, it is important to point out that violence is only the tip of the iceberg of Copts’ grievances, as they continue to face institutionalized discrimination in numerous aspects, rendering them to a de facto status of second-class citizens. Coptic Solidarity recommends that the new administration join hands with other leading members of the international community in pressing Egypt to respect international conventions and treat its citizens, especially the religious minorities, as equals. Coptic Solidarity urges the U.S. government to recommend the implementation of affirmative action for Copts in meetings with the Egyptian government which would include positions in the Egyptian Cabinet, military, universities, and other government positions.
- The new US administration should work closely with Egypt on issues of human rights while simultaneously fighting terrorism, not forgoing one at the expense of the other. Previous administrations have treated these issues as if they are unrelated or mutually exclusive. This should not be the case. Egypt is undergoing a formidable crackdown on all major aspects of civil liberties. The Egyptian government formally excuses this crackdown as necessary in its fight against terrorism. Yet, the crackdown extends far beyond combating terrorism and touches many who hold views different from the government’s. This crackdown has impacted NGOs, freedom of the press, freedom of association, women’s’ rights advocates, religious minorities (Copts, Shi’a Muslims and Baha’is, atheists), artists, intellectuals, and political adversaries. Furthermore, contrary to declarations by President El-Sisi on the need for reforming religious discourse, Egypt’s government in fact supports the dominance of hardline Salafists in numerous aspects of the public sphere, including mosques, schools (especially educational curricula), and the media in what essentially constitutes hate speech. Coptic Solidarity urges the new U.S. administration to partner closely with Egypt to defeat terrorist ideologies, by raising issues related to human rights, individual liberties and civil society and demanding radical improvement in these areas.
- Egypt’s relationship with the U.S. was greatly damaged by the previous administration, which tarried before it eventually grudgingly supported the popular uprising that brought down the Muslim Brotherhood and Muhammed Morsi’s regime. Coptic Solidarity urges Trump’s administration when considering aid to Egypt to pursue new approaches to share American values with Egypt in areas such as educational programs, including the establishment of schools in Egypt, which would provide affordable opportunity for more Egyptians to receive world-class education that promotes rational critical thinking, open-mindedness, and tolerance of intellectual diversity.
- Fighting Islamic terrorism, which has rightly been a declared goal by Mr. Trump, may involve military action. However, Islamic terrorism cannot be defeated without confronting Islamist ideologies behind it, which are promoted by some Middle East regional powers and some non-state operators. As it did with communist ideologies, America under the leadership of the new Trump administration should lead the world in exposing, combating and eventually defeating these Islamist ideologies, which are at the core nothing but political ideologies wrapped in religious veneer.
In summary, Coptic Solidarity looks forward to a new approach towards Egypt by the new administration that would strengthen collaboration in combating terrorism while endorsing civil society, individual liberties, equal rights for all Egyptians, religious freedom, and secularism. This approach recognizes that only a forward-looking Egypt can play a positive role in combating and defeating terrorism and improving the stability of the region.
Coptic Solidarity is an organization seeking to help minorities, particularly the Copts, of Egypt and we support those in Egypt working for democracy, freedom, and the protection of the fundamental rights of all Egyptian citizens. It advocates in cooperation with the affiliated organizations in Canada and in Europe (Solidarité Copte). For more information, contact Lindsay Vessey at 801-512-1713 or firstname.lastname@example.org