By Rep. French Hill – Washington Examiner –
In 2017, I took up the mantle in support of Egypt’s Coptic Christian population.
In America, we are blessed to freely worship and live out our respective faith, but that’s not the case for many around the globe, and it’s especially not the case for Coptic Christians in Egypt. I’ve witnessed this firsthand during my visit to Egypt last year.
I introduced resolution (H.Res. 673) at the beginning of this year, which expresses concern over attacks that occur on Coptic Christians in Egypt. I received tremendous support from my colleagues in Congress and organizations like In Defense of Christians and Coptic Solidarity that have made it much easier to confront opposition and explain the justice of our position. My resolution has bipartisan support with 18 Democratic and 36 Republican cosponsors.
The key for next Congress will be encouraging more members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee to cosponsor and continuing to educate members concerned about the resolution’s objectives. I stress to our members and to Egyptian foreign affairs officials that this is not an attack on Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. To the contrary, 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.
Egypt and the United States are important partners in the fight against terrorism in the region. Egypt’s role at Camp David has led to some of the closest ties between the U.S., Egypt, and Israel in their history. Egypt receives an average of $1.6 billion in aid from the United States each year, so we want to see them fighting for the democratic values of religious liberty that we hold dear. Egypt is the second-highest recipient of American military aid in the world, and our government must use the tools it has to hold our allies to a higher standard if they are to continue to receive our aid.
My staff and I have met with the Egyptian Embassy on numerous occasions, and I’ve had other opportunities to meet with members of the Egyptian Parliament, including one woman who is a Copt. One still marvels at the vision and bravery of Anwar Sadat at the Knesset in 1977 when he said, “We all love this land, the land of God, we all, Muslims, Christians, and Jews, all worship God. We must all rise above all forms of obsolete theories of superiority, and the most important thing is never forget that infallibility is the prerogative of God alone.” Today, Egypt and Israel partner together to fight terrorism in the Sinai and attempt to be arbiters in Gaza.
I also have great respect for President el-Sissi, someone I have had the opportunity to meet with on two occasions, and I applaud the changes and message that el-Sissi 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 while constructing the largest Christian cathedral in the Middle East in the “new” administrative center, and holding terrorists accountable for their atrocities.
But, there is more to do.
In my meetings with the Egyptian government I continue to emphasize that el-Sissi’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. The State Department’s most recent religious freedom report on Egypt published in early 2018 mentions Minya Province more than any other that I noted.
Minya is where the most recent and some of the most deadly attacks on Copts have occurred. The Egyptians routinely claim they have no minorities in Egypt. “We are all Egyptian and all take our water from the Nile,” they say. But from my studies, and in my view, there is a population in Egypt that does not have the same protections under the rule of law as others. They must do better in places like Minya.
If you attack a Christian, if you destroy their churches, if you murder a Christian, the Egyptian government must hold you accountable for your actions in a court of law. This is justice under the law.
In the book of Proverbs, Solomon tells us, “Evil men understand nothing of justice, but those who seek the Lord understand all.” And, from the Holy Koran, “Let not the hatred of a people swerve you away from justice.”
We must continue to encourage today’s Egypt to live up to the legacy of Camp David at home, working to achieve what Sadat called “permanent peace based on justice.” I will continue to engage with the U.S. government, other like-minded governments, and non-governmental organizations that continue to speak out against the plight of intolerance and fear that many Christians around the world face on a daily basis.
As former President Ronald 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 a fundamental American position, and I am honored to be a champion in promoting this issue for Coptic Christians, and all Egyptians who take their water from the Nile.
Rep. French Hill, a Republican, represents Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District. He serves as majority whip on the House Committee on Financial Services. You can follow him on Twitter: @RepFrenchHill
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