In CS Releases & Articles

By Coptic Solidarity –

The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published their annual report on International Religious Freedom on May 1, 2024. The report covers developments which took place in the previous year, 2023. Coptic Solidarity publishes an  annual analysis of the Egypt chapter of the USCIRF report as well as that published by the Office of International Religious Freedom (OIRF) at the US State Department. Because these entities and their annual reports are often confused with one another, we have included some key distinctions below (see Appendix).

The Egypt chapter of the USCIRF report contains a highly similar overview of the situation in Egypt as compared to the previous year’s report. In this regard, the report provides an excellent condensed overview while highlighting critical developments. 


  • Inclusion and specific examples of local communities responding in violence to the building  and repair of churches, even when a permit has been approved.
  • Inclusion of the case of Souad Thabet and how the Court of Cassation rejected both of her appeals regarding all of her attackers being acquitted.
  • Continued attention to the inherently discriminatory 2016 Church Law, problems with implementation, and calling for a universal “houses of worship” legislation.
  • Mention that an emergency state security court sentenced Coptic advocate, Patrick Zaki, to three years imprisonment and that it required a presidential pardon for Zaki to be released.
  • Update on curricula, that upper grade textbooks that contain “religiously prejudicial content and the courses of all grades remained religionized in favor of the government’s interpretation of Sunni Islam.”
  • Inclusion that minority rights lawyers have reported ”an alarming lack of  transparency and consistency in the judicial system.”


  • Tightened language describing the Egyptian government as giving “selective attention to religious diversity and tolerance, but noting no substantial improvement as opposed to the previous report which referred to President El-Sisi making overtures to minority faith communities. This is not a major difference but does indicate an understanding that “positive” action taken by the Egyptian government is well-calculated for maximum appearance without seeking or effecting meaningful change.
  • Inclusion of a new recommendation to the US Government to urge Egypt to formally recognize certain other faiths (e.g. Baha’is, and non-Sunni Muslims.) This is an important point as the Egyptian Constitution and government only recognize the 3 “heavenly religions” which are Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Members of other faith communities have no status, ability to build houses of worship, to have their marriages recognized by the state, and more.
  • The Recommendations session is clearer, and specifically calls on Congress “to conduct a comprehensive review of all US assistance to Egypt and continue to set conditions on Foreign Military Financing, requiring specific improvements in religious freedom among other human rights.” As the State Department often issues waivers to side-step the need for improvement in human rights, it is incumbent on Congress to stop or lessen the flow of US tax-dollars to Egypt.

Coptic Solidarity Recommendations

  • The report published in 2023 referred to the Egyptian criminal justice system as a “locus of systematic and ongoing religious freedom violations.” Systematic and ongoing are two of the three criteria of religious freedom violations for a country to qualify for the CPC status. Yet, this year’s report in a section renamed Legislation, Law Enforcement and the Judiciary refers to “authorities’ enforcement of several laws as posing “severe and systematic threats to religious freedom.” If this wording change, now only including one of the three criterion for CPC designation is intentional, Coptic Solidarity is in disagreement and recommends that the ‘ongoing” still applies.
  • The report states that, “in 2023 in some courts – including the Supreme State Security Court and the Court of Cassation…departed from the customary leniency toward religious-majority defendents, instead convicting and issuing severe sentences, including the death penalty, to Muslim assailants.” Coptic Solidarity has tracked and reported on the difference between sentences given to those who attack properties and/or kill Copts versus what is implemented. The prosecution often does not make charges against culprits, and if made, judiciary will often give a sentence and once public attention has moved on, the sentence will be lessened or even overturned.
  • In reference to the case of Souad Thabet, the report uses terminology such as allegedly and alleged, despite existing recordings of the incident and President EL-Sisi speaking out publicly saying she should receive justice, just after the attack happened in 2016. The report’s language can be interpreted to cast doubt on well-established events. This case also perfectly demonstrates the “end result” for a Coptic victim and serves as a reminder that more severe sentences can be rescinded leaving Copts without justice. Mrs. Thabet was also never compensated for her lost property, being driven from her home and village, nor was their accountability for the local police who turned her away hours before the attack occurred.
  • The report references restoration projects for both Coptic and Jewish  historic  houses of worship. While this is indeed positive, information was published in the OIRF report and Coptic Solidarity independently confirmed with a Jewish organization that their community was not invited to attend or even consulted regarding the inauguration of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo. Coptic Solidarity recommends an update with more information on this situation in a separate publication or the next annual report. The exclusion of the very community which restoration of a Jewish Synagogue would  most benefit, perfectly exemplifies the Egyptian government’s efforts to create a positive narrative and media moments around religious freedom, but not to create real or meaningful improvement for the actual religious minority individuals, not to mention that incredibly large public funds are routinely used to build or renovate mosques.
  • Update size of the Coptic population in Egypt. HH Pope Tawadros provided new statistics on the Coptic population in Egypt in 2023, claiming that they represent 14% of the Egyptian population, which is an estimated 15 million people, not 10 – 11 million.
  • Monitor the presence of Copts in public jobs where they currently face the 2% ceiling such as in education, administration, national security, and the judiciary.
  • Return recommendation to remove religion as a required category from official identity documents.


The USCIRF is an independent, bi-partisan federal agency that monitors the implementation of Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) and makes recommendations to the US President, Secretary of State and Congress, whereas the OIRF is part of the State Department’s Bureau on Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor.

  1. The USCIRF report covers fewer countries whereas the OIRF report covers nearly every country in the world aside from the USA.
  2.  The USCIRF report is much briefer and includes key recommendations to the US government.  The USCIRF Egypt chapter is two pages long versus the OIRF Egypt chapter which is nearly 40 pages.
  3. The USCIRF makes recommendations on which countries should be included in the list of most severe violators of religious freedom, “Countries of Particular Concern” (CPC), as well as those to be placed on a Special Watch List (SWL).
  4. The OIRF publishes its annual report after USCIRF, on June 26 this year. The State Department’s designations of CPCs and SWLs are the official ones, not just recommendations. The State Department is not required to accept the USCIRF recommendations, and in many cases does not.
  5. Both reports cover the period of January 1 through December 31 of the previous year, so the name can be confusing. The OIRF report published in 2024 is titled 2023 Report on International Religious Freedom in reference to the reporting period. Thus, the reports will not include the most recent develops in a given country. 

Previous Analyses

Recommended Posts

Leave a Comment