By Coptic Solidarity – Christian News Wire
For Immediate Release
(Washington, DC) December 6, 2021
On November 17, Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced the State Department’s designations of the worst violators of religious freedom. Worst among them are those Countries of Particular Concern (CPC) that engage in the tri-part criteria of “egregious, systematic, and ongoing” religious freedom violations. Two other categories of designations were mentioned by Blinken: Special Watch List (SWL) nations that engage in at least one of the three CPC criteria; and Entities of Particular Concern (EPC), that is, organizations—such as the Islamist groups al-Shabab and Boko Haram—guilty of religious freedom violations.
Despite ongoing recommendations by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) to add Egypt to the SWL—recommendations backed up by a detailed Egypt-specific report published earlier this month—the State Department has yet again given Egypt a free pass.
Over the previous three years (2017-2019), the USCIRF placed Egypt on their Tier 2 list, meaning Egypt engaged in or tolerated at least one of the three criteria—“egregious,” “systematic,” and “ongoing”—of religious freedom violations. In 2020, the USCIRF placed Egypt on their Special Watch List for meeting the “systematic” and “ongoing” criteria of religious freedom violations. Before 2011, USCIRF merely noted that they were monitoring the situation in Egypt to see if it warranted a designation. USCIRF recommended Egypt for the Country of Particular Concern status annually between 2011 – 2016.
Coptic Solidarity (CS) has been publishing an analysis of the State Department’s Egypt chapter in its annual international religious freedom report since 2014. Regardless of the severity of the persecution and discrimination against religious minorities, it is disturbing to note that Egypt has never once been designated as a SWL or CPC. As we stated in the 2019 analysis, what constitutes improvement? Apparently for the State Department, Egypt’s verbal proclamations and nominal actions—all of which are clearly meant for “external consumption”—are reason enough to omit Egypt from its CPC or even SWL designations. Yet none of these superficial words and actions have resulted in actual, concrete change in the everyday lives of Copts, who continue to flee their Egyptian homeland at alarming rates. The real-life testimonies of the newest arrivals are, furthermore, in direct contradiction to the official narrative being peddled by the Egyptian government and the representatives of the wealthy and elitist ruling class of the Copts.
Both the State Department and USCIRF continue to report annually on Egypt’s slow but reportedly tenacious effort to improve language in and promote tolerance for religious minorities through their public-school curriculum. Despite these claims, Coptic Solidarity has yet to find a US official at either entity who has actually seen or can verify these improvements to the textbooks.
Another frequently cited “improvement” is the passage of the 2016 Church Law, which both State and USCIRF contend has improved the Copts’ ability to build churches. Yet, as Coptic Solidarity has, with ample evidence, repeatedly said, the law is inherently discriminatory, as it treats houses of worship differently—openly outlining many more requirements for the building and repair of churches than for mosques. In other words, the much-touted 2016 Church Law has only legalized what was once an informal policy of discrimination.
Moreover, the State Department continues to cite the number of churches that have received “approvals,” without explaining that the vast majority of these approvals are merely preliminary—meaning the churches are still required to meet several onerous, expensive, and in short, hard to meet conditions, before they can gain actual approval. In reality, just a tiny percentage of all the Christian buildings and churches in the country that have applied for recognition have received final approvals. Meanwhile, there have been more church closures under President Sisi than under President Mubarak.
Finally, the approved applications to build churches are only in new construction zones, meaning that absolutely nothing has been done to address the severe shortage of churches where Copts already reside.
Despite all this, the important designations of CPC and SWL—which could serve as effective tools to pressure the Egyptian government to make actual improvements towards religious freedom for minorities in Egypt—have, once again and for purely political reasons, been withheld by the State Department. We urge the State Department to reconsider its decision.
Photo Credit: Rena Effendi/Institute/Magnum Foundation