Media Contact: James E. Geoffrey, II
(Washington) - Commissioners of the U.S. Helsinki Commission have called on the Government of Egypt to take more proactive steps to protect its Coptic Christian minority specifically, as well as all non-Muslims. Speaking at a press conference, the Commissioners called recent violence against the Copts incompatible with both Egypt’s Constitution and international human rights obligations, and urged that Egyptian authorities take action to ease tensions between Muslims, Copts and other religious groups.
“The Egyptian Government has said some good things about fostering better relations between Muslims and Copts, but the message has not gotten down to the State Security Intelligence forces,” said Commission Chairman Senator Sam Brownback (R-KS). “The recent violence against the Copts in Egypt seems to have been instigated by the security services and that is unacceptable.”
The Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the Helsinki Commission, is a U.S. Government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords. The Commission consists of nine members from the United States Senate, nine from the House of Representatives, and one member each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.
“Since the 1990’s attacks on churches, property and businesses of the Copts have been on the increase, including the abduction of young Coptic girls for the purposes of forcing them to convert to Islam. The Egyptian Government needs to work harder to put a stop to this kind of violence,” added Commission Co-Chairman Rep. Chris Smith (D-NJ).
On October 21, a Muslim mob in Alexandria, Egypt, killed four Coptic Christians and injured over 80 others in riots sparked after showing of a film perceived as derogatory to Muslims. Reports state that Muslim leaders went to State Security Headquarters in Alexandria to protest the film as early as October 14 and were told by officials to “take revenge for your faith by yourselves.”
“Egyptian officials have been at best lax and, at worst, criminally negligent in the October 21 riots,” said Commissioner Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA). “Some have alleged that the security officials let this happen for political purposes related to the parliamentary elections. If true, than what looked unacceptably incompetent has taken on a more sinister tone.”
The Government of Egypt has been critical of violence against Coptic Christians, but has been criticized for failing to take more than rhetorical action to stop such violence. Against this backdrop, Coptic Christians have been subject to discrimination and have had increasing difficulty obtaining permits to construct and maintain churches. Similar discrimination has been experienced by the Baha’i community as well.
“Over the past 25 years, the Islamic religious police and the State Security Intelligence forces have victimized or killed hundreds of Coptic Christians,” added Brownback. “The Egyptian Government is mistaken if it believes that it is honoring its international human rights commitments by saying the right things while this kind of discrimination and violence continues.”