In Selected Opinion

The Honorable French Hill
Before the Coptic Solidarity 9th Annual Policy Conference
June 21, 2018

Rep. Hill with Coptic Solidarity Board Members and Staff

  • Since we last met, I have been successful in introducing my House Resolution in support of the Copts, and garnering a diverse and bipartisan coalition of members that cosponsor it.
  • We currently have 41 cosponsors, including 13 members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • 16 Democrats, including original cosponsors Carolyn Maloney from New York, Brad Sherman from California, and David Cicilline from Rhode Island, both members of the Foreign Affairs Committee.
  • And, 25 Republicans, including original cosponsors Dave Trott from Michigan, who is also speaking to you today, and Middle East Subcommittee Chair Illeana Ros-Lehtinen from Florida.
  • While I am pleased with the support from members of Congress I have received, I have also been successful in persuading more than one member to be more open minded about this issue.
  • I stress to them that this is not an attack on President El-Sisi.
  • I acknowledge and support our partnership and friendship with Egypt, but more can always be done in the area of protecting religious freedom and human rights.
  • I have also received tremendous support from this organization, and have welcomed meeting with you here in DC, and had an excellent opportunity to visit with Dr. Guirguis in Dallas.
  • Since introducing the Resolution last December, I have met with the Egyptian Embassy, and the Ambassador’s #2, Charge d’ Affairs Minister, Wael Hamed.
  • I’ve had opportunities to meet with members of the Egyptian Parliament, including one woman who is a Copt.
  • And my staff has met with the Embassy staff several other times.
  • Egypt and the United States are important partners in the fight against terrorism in the region.
  • Their role in Camp David has led to some of the closest ties between the U.S., Egypt, and Israel in their history.
  • Who would think that Egypt and Israel would ever partner together to fight terrorism in the Sinai or to attempt to be arbiters in Gaza.
  • I also have great respect for President El-Sisi, someone I have had the opportunity to meet with on two occasions, and the changes and message that El-Sisi has made in the area of religious tolerance.
  • He continues to say and do the right things at the top level of government.
  • Having a good relationship with the Coptic Pope, attending mass on multiple occasions, getting some Churches reconstructed, and holding terrorists accountable for their atrocities.
  • In my meetings with the Egyptian government I continue to emphasize that El-Sisi’s message has been the right one, but that message does not trickle down to the rural areas of the country, where the attacks against Christians are the most prevalent and the most violent.
  • I continue to press this same message with the U.S. government.
  • In December, I, along with Reps. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen, Ted Deutch, David Cicilline, and 71 other members of the House, wrote VP Pence before his visit to Egypt asking that in any meetings with the Egyptian government that he addresses protection of religious freedom and human rights.
  • And, most recently, I met with former House member, Senator and Kansas Governor, Sam Brownback, our Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department.
  • He too shared my view of the important role that Egypt plays in the region, and if Egypt focuses on the protection of its religious minorities, then it’s role in the region and world can only grow.
  • I have also received tremendous support from other outside organizations and governments.
  • In a phone call with the former UK Ambassador to the Egypt, John Casson, we discussed the issue of religious freedom in Egypt, and the helpful ways that the British government is engaging in the areas of education reform, which is one of the foundations of intolerance against Christians.
  • I also received a supportive letter from the Papal Nuncio here in DC, Archbishop Christophe Pierre.
  • In the letter he states that he “certainly agrees that Egypt plays an important geo-political role in the Middle East, and so an Egyptian government which respects religious and other personal freedoms, and is therefore more stable, is greatly to be desired.”
  • Finally, the Hungarian Government has taken the initiative in the Levant and is a capable partner in protecting Christianity in the Middle East and aiding in the post ISIS recovery.
  • For less than $10 million the government sponsored the rebuilding of a Christian village in Northern Iraq, and resettled its Christian population that had been displaced by the ISIS barbarians.
  • Earlier this year, Ambassador Szabó brought an exhibit from the Hungarian National Museum in Budapest to their Embassy here in DC.
  • Entitled “Cross in Fire” this exhibit highlights Christian persecution in the Middle East.
  • Your heart breaks while viewing the pictures and testimonies of the devastation and murder wrought by terrorists like ISIS, including the bombing of the St. Peter and St. Paul Church in Cairo from 2016.
  • However, by the end of the exhibit you see that some of the displaced Christian communities have started to rebuild and resettle.
  • But, like churches being rebuilt, green shoots of renewal are appearing.
  • And there is no stronger sign of hope than the birth of a child. I was heartened by the pictures of families baptizing their young ones. The first baptism that church had held in years.
  • Although this resolution was introduced six months ago to this day it feels like our work is just beginning.
  • I will continue to engage with the U.S. Government, our partners in other Governments, and those groups, like Coptic Solidarity, that continue to speak out against the plight of intolerance and fear that many Christians around the world face on a daily basis.
  • As President Reagan said, “Respect for human rights is not social work; it is not merely an act of compassion. It is the first obligation of government and the source of its legitimacy.”
  • The respect for human rights and religious freedom is an American issue, and I am honored to be a champion in promoting this issue for the Coptic Christians of Egypt.
  • Thank you.
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