By Coptic Solidarity –
(Washington, DC) July 19, 2019
While speaking at the 2nd Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom which Secretary Pompeo is hosting this week in Washington, DC, guest speaker and author, Joel Rosenberg, made a number of statements regarding Copts and the state of religious freedom in Egypt that were inaccurate and misleading. Coptic Solidarity previously published an article exposing how Evangelicals are being used by the Egyptian government in a public relations campaign to convince the West that religious freedom is improving in Egypt despite objective data indicating an opposite reality. Below is a summary of the claims made unchallenged by Rosenberg and Coptic Solidarity’s clarifications.
Some of the claims were:
- Claim: The country where we see the most improvement in religious freedom in the Middle East is Egypt.
Coptic Solidarity and numerous other civil society organizations have documented and published frequently regarding the serious deterioration of the situation of religious discrimination in Egypt.
- Claim: Stated that all the churches awaiting permits are guaranteed under law to operate freely until they receive permits, and thus the permitting situation is solved.
- Rosenberg presented what the Egyptian government claims but omitted the easily accessible facts proving this claim erroneous.
- According to the State Department’s Egypt chapter of the IRF report, the Egyptian government has ordered the shuttering of multiple churches in direct contravention of law. EIPR has documented “15 instances of sectarian violence related to the legalizations of 15 previously unlicensed churches from September 2017 to October 2018.”
- The country’s 27 governors are responsible to approve church applications within 4 months of submission and rejections are to be accompanied by a written explanation. There is no recourse for churches that are denied permits.
- Church applications are subject to the government’s view (essentially that of the state security apparatus) on “number and need,” and strict land registration procedures that are not required for mosques which can be built freely.
Several churches have been closed in Egypt since the passage of the 2016 law used to regulate the building and repair of Christian churches and buildings. Ironically, as Mr. Rosenberg was speaking, a new (typical) crisis erupted when Copts of Koum El-Raheb, Minya, were prevented by intransigent Security forces from holding prayers for a deceased person at a church that had been closed to placate Muslims.
- Claim: Stated the number of church permits granted to unlicensed churches is around 1,000 of the 6000+ that have applied for formal permits.
- Even if the number appears to be approximately correct as of now, it must be noted that several regularization permits are conditional on fulfilling multiple draconian conditions within an unrealistic time frame.
- Since 2017, the Egyptian government has only approved construction of 14 new churches.
- Claim: President el-Sisi built the largest cathedral in the Middle East and gifted it to the Copts.
- Coptic Solidarity issued a press release regarding this claim with many additional details explaining that this symbolic gesture, meant essentially to placate the West, does not in any way equate to an improvement in religious freedom.
- The cathedral was indeed built on land donated by the Egyptian government. But the cost of construction was entirely covered by private (Coptic) funds with no public contribution.
- The cathedral is located in the yet-to-be inhabited new administrative capital, which is inaccessible to the vast majority of Copts. Indeed, apart from “show” visits and rare religious sermons, it is essentially closed most of the time.
The Ministerial to Advance Religious Freedom is an excellent event and this effort to expose Rosenberg’s inaccurate and misleading claims is not intended as a criticism of the Ministerial, its exponential impact in promoting religious freedom, or the many employees and volunteers who made the event possible. Ambassador -at -Large for International Religious Freedom, Sam Brownback, stated that the Ministerial is intentionally brining together a multitude of views to be shared and discussed. Coptic Solidarity wholeheartedly supports the objective and hosting of this new annual initiative.
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 Griffin at 801-512-1713 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credit: Joel C. Rosenberg’s Blog