In Conference Report, CS Releases & Articles

Coptic Solidarity hosted its 11th Annual Conference The Indigenous Copts: Past Denied and Future Unknown in Washington, DC on June 15-16, 2023. The Policy Day was hosted on June 15th in the US Capitol Visitor Center with the 2nd day of the conference hosted at the Courtyard by Marriott Pentagon South on June 16th. Below are short summaries of speeches and sessions hosted over the two-day event. Links to watch the speeches and sessions on Coptic Solidarity’s YouTube Channel are also provided.

Policy Day  – June 15, 2023, at the U.S. Capitol (Visitor Center)

OPENING REMARKS by Caroline Doss J.D.- President, Coptic Solidarity

The report titled “The Coptic Identity” was presented to the UN, addressing the discrimination faced by the Coptic Christians in Egypt. Despite the illusion created by the Egyptian government, the laws and government in Egypt discriminate against Christians, hindering their growth and development. Building churches and freely practicing their faith is still restricted for Christians in Egypt. The burning of churches is a recurring trend, with little to no attention or protection from the government. The lack of representation and opportunities for Christians in key positions within the government is evidence of discrimination. Real change is needed to allow Christians to thrive in Egypt.
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SESSION -1: Egypt’s Denial of Copts’ Status and Rights as Indigenous Peoples

  • Moderated by: Faith McDonnell – Director of Advocacy, Kartatismos Global
  • Dr. Gregory Stanton – Founder & President, Genocide Watch
  • Adel Guindy – Founding President of Coptic Solidarity & Author of A Sword Over the Nile: A Brief History of the Copts Under Islamic Rule

Mr. Adel Guindy, co-founder and first president of Coptic Solidarity, discussed the dilemma faced by Coptic Christians in Egypt in the context of the modern nation-state concept. He explained that in the Middle Ages, although the Copts lacked political autonomy, they had some independence in social and educational matters. Guindy highlighted the importance of education for the Coptic community and how this enabled Copts to play a significant role in holding government jobs, especially in administrative and accounting domains. He also noted that the Copts had their own (legal) system for civil disputes, mostly handled within their communities. With the emergence of the modern nation-state in Egypt, Mr. Guindy argued that the Copts sought equal citizenship and happily gave-up their autonomy privileges (in education and civil status issues) but unfortunately never attained basic citizenship equality. He further discussed how the Egyptian constitution’s emphasis on Islam as the state religion has impacted the Coptic community, affecting education and civil status. Mr. Guindy concluded that the modern nation-state, instead of treating everyone as equal citizens, has – ironically – resulted in the opposite for the Copts in Egypt.
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Dr. Gregory Stanton, founding president and chairman of Genocide Watch, began by sharing a personal story about his conversion to Christianity. He emphasized the importance of Christianity in offering a personal relationship with God. Dr. Stanton discussed the early persecution of Christians in the book of Acts and the ongoing persecution of Coptic Christians in Egypt. Stanton called for action to support religious freedom in Egypt and urged individuals to meet with the American ambassador and push for change. Dr. Stanton highlighted the need to continue advocating for religious freedom and to hold the Egyptian government accountable.
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US Representative French Hill (R- AR)

U.S Representative French Hill (R-AR) has introduced three resolutions in Congress in support of Coptic Christians in Egypt. He discussed his recent visit to Egypt, where he met with President el-Sisi and the Coptic Pope, reaffirming his commitment to religious freedom and tolerance. Rep. Hill emphasized the need for justice, equal treatment, and protection for Christians in Egypt, particularly in Minya province, where attacks and persecution have been prevalent. He highlighted the importance of holding the Egyptian government accountable, promoting educational reforms to remove biases, and supporting the registration and rebuilding of churches. Congressman Hill concluded by expressing his commitment to fighting for religious freedom not only in Egypt, but also around the world
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US Senator Robert Menendez (D-NJ) Chairman Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
US Senator Robert Menendez recorded a special message for Coptic Solidarity’s 11th Annual Conference which was shown at the Policy Day on June 15, 2023.
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Mr. Frank Wolf – Commissioner, US Commission on International Religious Freedom
Commissioner Frank Wolf, a member of the U.S Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), gave remarks on the state of religious freedom in Egypt. USCIRF is an independent and bipartisan federal body that advises the U.S government on religious freedom issues abroad. The 2023 annual report by USCIRF stresses the need for Egypt to address ongoing violations of religious freedom and recommends placing Egypt on the State Department’s Special Watch List. While some positive steps have been taken, such as cultural preservation projects and the appointment of a Coptic Supreme Court judge, religious freedom in Egypt remains systematically restricted. USCIRF recommends that the U.S government continue withholding a portion of the foreign military financing provided to Egypt until improvements are made in human rights and religious freedom. The involvement and pressure from stakeholders, including the US Congress, are encouraged for lasting change.
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Ms. Mariah Mercer – Deputy Director, Office of International Religious Freedom, State Department
Deputy Director Mercer discussed the importance of addressing religious freedom and advocating for change. She emphasized that freedom of religion is interconnected with freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, and equal citizenship. Governments are urged to align their laws with international human rights standards. Mercer also called for the release of individuals imprisoned on  religious grounds and the repeal of blasphemy and apostasy laws. She argued that the enforcement of blasphemy laws by governments undermines human rights.
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SESSION-2: Unequal by Law: How Religion Usurps Citizenship Rights in Egypt

  • Moderated by: Raymond Ibrahim – Author, Public Speaker, and Middle East and Islam specialist
  • Robert Destro, J.D. – Professor of Law at Columbus School of Law, The Catholic University of America
  • Dr. Paul Marshall – Wilson Distinguished Professor of Religious Freedom at the Institute for Studies of Religion; Director of the Religious Freedom Institute’s South and Southeast Asia Action Team; Senior Fellow – Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom

The panelists discussed the issue of unequal citizenship rights in Egypt based on religion. The historical backdrop of Islam’s conquest of Egypt was described, leading to the persecution and discrimination of non-Muslims. Two panelists, Dr. Robert Destro and Raymond Ibrahim, shared their perspectives on the issue. Speakers provided  examples of discriminatory practices towards Coptic Christians, Shia Muslims, Baha’is, and atheists in Egypt. The panelists highlighted the need to challenge discriminatory policies as inconsistent with Islamic values and promote equal citizenship rights for all.
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SESSION-3: Introduction to International Advocacy

  • Moderated by Tent Martin – Advocacy and Training Coordinator, 21Wilberforce
  • Ann Buwalda, J.D. – President, Jubilee Campaign
  • Sean Nelson, J.D. – Legal Counsel Alliance Defending Freedom Global

The panelists, Sean Nelson and Ann Buwalda, shared their expertise on participating in various areas for engagement, such as hosting side events, providing written reports, and engaging with UN special rapporteurs to raise the profile of specific issues. Recommendations and specific action points were highlighted as key to driving change on the ground. They noted that the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process should be a strategic focus for advocacy efforts. The panelists also emphasized the importance of a holistic approach, clear goals, and deliberate coordination. Speakers discussed the need to translate the ideas in high-level dialogues and report submissions into practical changes on the ground. Building credibility, putting a face to specific issues, and maintaining consistent pressure were highlighted as effective strategies, as well as  balancing negative and positive sanctions in advocacy in advocacy.
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Coptic Solidarity’s Atef Jacob Annual Leadership Award:  Lindsay Rodriguez of Coptic Solidarity Presented Award to Ann Buwalda J.D., of Jubilee Campaign.

The annual leadership award is traditionally given to a legislator but this year it was given to Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign. Ms. Buwalda has served as a mentor and facilitated Coptic Solidarity’s participation at the UN prior to receiving UN NGO status and assisted through the application process. Jubilee Campaign staff members, Hulda Fahmi and Sydney Kochran, were present for the award presentation. Both have also been vital in partnering with Coptic Solidarity on numerous initiatives from trafficking of Coptic women and minor girls, to addressing blasphemy laws in Egypt, and co-hosting and participating as guest speakers for one another’s events.
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PRESENTATION: Coptic Solidarity’s Key Advocacy Initiatives and Campaigns
Coptic Solidarity (CS)is a nonprofit organization focused on advocacy and awareness to achieve equal citizenship rights for the indigenous Copts in Egypt. The organization works independently to protect against influence from all church institutions and the Egyptian  government. CS has made progress in getting the US government to acknowledge and address issues such as trafficking of Coptic women and the inherently discriminatory 2016 Church law. CS also actively exposes Egyptian government lobbying efforts, particularly with the US government and legislators. The organization campaigns for the rights of Copts in variety of  areas, including protection and preservation as the indigenous peoples of Egypt,  in governmental positions, academia, employment, and  sports. CS is already utilizing the newly gained status as an NGO officially recognized by the United Nations and working to utilize the many new avenues available to advocate for Copts, while partnering with like-minded organizations.

SESSION-4: Practical Solutions for Achieving Equal Citizenship Rights for Egypt’s Copts

  • Moderated by: Lindsay Rodriguez – Director of Development & Advocacy, Coptic Solidarity
  • Dr. Nathan J. Brown– Professor of Political Science and International Affairs, George Washington University and Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
  • Caroline Doss, J.D. – President, Coptic Solidarity
  • Amy Hawthorne – Deputy Director of Research – POMED
  • David Schenker – Director, Program on Arab Politics, The Washington Institute for Near East Policy

The panel discussion focused on concrete ideas for achieving equal citizenship rights for Egypt’s Copts.  Presenters discussed the difficulty of implementing improvements for Copts in Egypt due to the resistance of the government and to their ongoing discriminatory policies which are imbedded in society. Thus, Copts face discrimination form the government and society. A critical step that multiple speakers addressed is the need for the Egyptian government to acknowledge and take action to address their inherently discriminatory policies against Copts such as in education, governmental positions, sports, and building and maintaining houses of worship. Panelists recommend use of international pressure, diplomatic intervention, and spotlighting individual cases as potential strategies for driving change. The challenging political environment in Egypt and the need for a combination of grassroots and government-led efforts for lasting change were acknowledged.
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SESSION-5: The Ordeal of Christians in the Middle East & Africa

  • Moderated by Jeff King: President, International Christian Concern
  • Unnamed Sudanese Coptic Witness  shared first- hand testimony about recent events and escape to the U.S.
  • Aimar Raheema Christians Without Home (Iraq) and Isis’s Victim
  • Simisola Okai –Activist, TV Producer & Author of I Want to Be a Mommy When I Grow Up: Lessons of Faith and Hope

Jeff King, president of International Christian Concern, opened the session by highlighting the importance of working together in advocacy, especially in the face of growing persecution against Christians worldwide. Three victims of persecution, Nigerian Simisola Okai, Iraqi Aimar Raheema, and an Unnamed Sudanese Coptic witness, discussed the specific cases of persecution in Nigeria, Iraq, and Sudan. They all shared personal stories of individuals who have been kidnapped, killed, or displaced due to their faith. The speakers stressed the need for accountability and support from the international community to address these issues and protect the rights of persecuted Christians. The speakers highlighted the failure of governments and churches in providing adequate protection and support for persecuted Christians and called for collaborative efforts to preserve the Christian presence in the Middle East. Mr. King concluded by urging action and documentation of the persecution for the sake of justice and future generations.
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Program Day 2 – June 16, 2023, at the Courtyard by Marriott Pentagon South

POEM for Global Coptic Day written by Ghada Melek, Coptic Solidarity Executive Committee Member.
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PRESENTATION: The 10th Anniversary of Church Burnings by Raymond Ibrahim – Author, Public Speaker, and Middle East and Islam specialist.

Raymond Ibrahim gave a speech about the burning of churches in Egypt, which officials claim to be acts of God or natural occurrences, but there are far too many burnings in close succession to not consider foul play. Two official claims for the burnings are outdated and deficient wiring in churches, and Muslim Brotherhood involvement. The Egyptian government is responsible for the poor infrastructure of churches by making it nearly impossible for Copts to repair existing churches or to build new ones.  Moreover, the Egyptian government has never formed the anti-discrimination committee despite constitutional provisions. Ibrahim noted that Coptic Solidarity is a secular organization that voices concerns for the Coptic community in Egypt. The organization faces challenges in gaining recognition. Ibrahim believes the United States and other countries prioritize their agendas over human rights. He also mentioned that the church in Egypt is aligned with the government, while Coptic Solidarity remains independent.
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PRESENTATION:  Youth Perspective & Engagement by Mark Basta – Coptic Solidarity Intern & Student at Berkley University

One of the most important tools successful advocacy organizations employ to launch their work is involving youth in the grassroots movement. Mark Basta, a college student, CS intern, and campus advocate, discussed the necessity of picking a solid message to pitch to youth, involving them in serious conversations and decision making, partnering with the community, and offering a rewarding experience for the youth that show interest. Basta also introduced the idea of starting school chapters to scatter CS’s mission across campuses, some of the most politically active areas in the nation.
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SESSION: Controlling the Narrative in Egypt

  • Moderated by: Hayvi Bouzo, Broadcast Journalist, Host of The Yalla Show
  • Mohamed Gohar– Founder of 25TV who hid 17 Copts in his office building during the Maspero Massacre
  • Bashar Jarrar – Political Analyst, Commentator, & Media Consultant
  • Sherif Mansour – Middle East Program Coordinator, Committee to Protect Journalists

A brief video created by Coptic Solidarity was shown to introduce the session and topic. The video demonstrates the government-controlled media narrative in Egypt, specifically the accusations of promoting hate speech and an anti-western narrative. The panelists discussed the accuracy of these claims and provided examples to substantiate their views, such as biased coverage of attacks against churches in Egypt. Panelists debated who carries the responsibility for this false narrative and discussed the Egyptian government’s control over media outlets. The panelists highlighted the systematic violence and terrorist attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the lack of media coverage and independent investigations into these incidents. Panelists noted the importance of countering the Egyptian government’s narrative in order to promote peace, religious freedom, and freedom of press.
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MESSAGE from Habib Afram – President of the Syriac League

Raymond Dunya read a message from Mr. Habib Afram, President of the Syriac League in the Lebanese Republic. The message called for struggle, not in solidarity with any particular group, but in solidarity with freedom, equality, and citizenship everywhere. Mr. Afram stressed the importance of principles and values over interests, and the need for systems that respect diversity and pluralism. He raised questions about the performance of authorities in Egypt and the possibility of positive distinction for Coptic Christians in sensitive positions. Mr. Afram also mentioned the historical persecution of Christians in the Middle East, including the Armenian genocide, and expressed solidarity with persecuted Christians. Mr. Dunya concluded the presentation by highlighting the ongoing struggle for Christians in the Middle East, who are impacted and marginalized.
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CLOSING REMARKS by Caroline Doss J.D.- President, Coptic Solidarity

Caroline Doss closed the 11th Annual Conference by emphasizing the need for more engagement, contributions, and actions from individuals worldwide to increase awareness and advocacy for achieving Coptic equality.
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