Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
From Arab Spring to Coptic Winter: Sectarian Violence and the Struggle for
Democratic Transition in Egypt
Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor,
Department of State
Egyptian American Rule of Law Association,
Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute
Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, Atlantic Council
The Hearing Was Held From 2:00 p.m. To 4:00 p.m. in 210 Cannon House Office
Building, Washington, D.C., Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), CSCE, Moderating
Tuesday, November 15, 2011
Federal News Service
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS SMITH (R-NJ): The commission will come to order. And I
apologize for the lateness in convening the hearing. And I would ask our
witnesses and our audience to have some forbearance.
There are a series of votes on the floor of the House that will have members
coming in and out. But I want to assure our distinguished Assistant Secretary
Michael Posner that all of us and those who are not here will read your
testimony very carefully and are very grateful that you’re here to give
testimony to us today.
I want to welcome all of you to our second Helsinki Commission hearing on the
volatile and dangerous situation facing Coptic Christians in Egypt following
the Arab Spring. And our hearing is entitled “From Arab Spring to Coptic
Winter: Sectarian Violence and the Struggle for Democratic Transition in
Europe.” The world watched with hope and anticipation, and for some of us,
with trepidation as events unfolded in Tahrir Square earlier this year.
This spring we saw Christians standing guard over Muslims during Friday prayers
in the middle of the square. We saw Muslims standing guard over Christians as
they celebrated Mass in Tahrir.
Sadly, much has changed since then. While many of those who came together to
forge the revolution want to continue that solidarity as they support Egypt’s
political transition, there are many others – far too many others who do not.
The transition period has been increasing in violence against Coptic
Christians. The current Egyptian government controlled by the Supreme Alliance
Council of the armed forces has not adequately responded to this violence, has
not protected vulnerable Coptic Christians and as we have seen on video, to our
horror, has even committed acts of violence against Coptic protestors.
On Sunday, October 9th, 27 people were killed and more than 300 injured in
Maspero when Egyptian military attacked a peaceful group of Coptic Christians
protesting the burning of a church in Aswan and demanding the removal of the
governor of Aswan who had justified the mob’s destruction of the church.
In this massacre in Maspero, witnesses saw the army firing on Coptic
demonstrators with live ammunition and plow through the crowd with armored
vehicles. Soldiers raided and stopped the live broadcast of two independent
news channels that had been covering the clashes.
At the same time, state-run television and radio reported that the Coptic
demonstrators had attacked the military and called for honorable citizens to
defend the army against attack, inciting violence against the Coptic minority.
Amid widespread domestic and international outrage over the events, the White
House issued a statement on October 10th saying that, quote, “The president is
deeply concerned about the violence in Egypt and that has led to a tragic loss
of life. Now is the time for restraint on all sides so that Egyptians can move
forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt.”
With all due respect, the president seems to have completely missed the point.
This is not a situation of equal power and equal responsibility for violence.
This was not a lawless gang clash on the street or a mob marauding the streets
in the absence of a government. The Coptic community was protesting the fact
that the Egyptian government in Aswan failed to protect Coptic property and
allowed a mob to burn down the Coptic place of worship.
When Copts called on the military government to treat the Copts as equal
citizens and protect their rights, the government itself turned on them with a
massacre. The time has come to ask is this government going to be better than
the Mubarak thug regime. This same government is investigating itself for the
incident and its assault on human rights continues.
In fact, the military has arrested at least 28 people, mostly Copts, in
connection with the clashes including prominent blogger Alaa Abd El Fattah.
These individuals are being hauled before military prosecutors.
To date, despite multiple videos and eyewitnesses’ accounts showing the
military’s use of lethal violence against peaceful protestors, the Egyptian
military has yet to take responsibility for its actions or otherwise
demonstrate that it will protect all Egyptians, including the Coptic minority
that make up more than 10 percent of its population.
According to the press reports of last week, a member of a government-backed
fact-finding committee said that the Egyptian army did not use live ammunition
to disperse protestors during the October 9th incident.
Yet, Hafez Abu Sayed Seada, a senior figure in the government-sponsored
National Council for Human Rights, which set up the committee, also said that
an independent investigation was needed to establish the full facts and that
some state institutions, including the army, did not cooperate fully with the
Rights activists including the Arab Network for Human Rights Information and
Human Rights Watch have criticized the report for a lack of detail.
Tragically, the massacre at Maspero is not an isolated incident but rather a
continuation of the endemic discrimination against and the marginalization of
Coptic Christians in Egypt.
According to the 2010 State Department international religious freedom report
for Egypt, and I quote, “The status of respect for religious freedom by the
government remained poor, unchanged from the previous year.”
Christians and members of the Baha’i faith, which the government does not
recognize, face personal and collective distinction, especially in government
employment and their ability to build, renovate or repair places of worship.
The government failed to prosecute perpetrators of violence against the Coptic
Christians, according to the State Department report, and failed again to
redress laws, particularly laws relating to church construction and renovation
and government practices, especially government hiring that discriminates
against Christians, especially allowing their discriminatory effects and their
modeling effect on society to become further entrenched.
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has noted that, and I
quote, “In response to sectarian violence, Egyptian authorities typically
conduct reconciliation sessions between Muslims and Christians as a means of
resolving disputes. In some cases, authorities compel victims to abandon their
claims to legal remedy. The failure to prosecute perpetrators fosters a
climate of impunity,” close quote.
A report by the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights covering the period from
January ’08 to January 2010 documented 53 incidents of sectarian violence,
about two incidents per month that took place in 17 of Egypt’s 29 governorates.
Most of the attacks were by Muslims on Christians and Christian churches or
property. Egypt will not reach, I would submit, its democratic goals through
the oppression of its minority peoples.
Democracy does not come with an iron fist. Rather, democracy springs from the
belief that all people are created equal and have the right to participate in
their own governance. A legitimate government is of the people, by the people
and for the people, including minorities. A legitimate government submits to
the rule of law.
The Egyptians demonstrated their belief in the Tahrir Square but seem to be
losing their way, spinning backwards into tyrannical abuses of power. If there
is any hope for a democratic and peaceful Egypt, the Copts must be allowed to
contribute actively to Egyptian society and to the transformation of their
country without fearing for their lives.
I’d like to now introduce our very distinguished first witness, a man I’ve
known for many years when he used to work for the committee for legal scholars
– the lawyers rights committee – as well as for other human rights
organizations in the past – Human Rights First. And I’ll introduce him and I
understand there is another vote. It’s on.
And I will have to report to the floor. So we’ll be in brief recess and then
Mr. Posner – Secretary Posner, we’ll ask you to present your testimony. And I
know some of the members will be back then. But so maybe on that point I’ll
just – we’ll be in recess for just a few minutes. Sorry about that. The
commission will resume its hearing. I’d like to yield to Commissioner Joe
Pitts from Pennsylvania.
REPRESENTATIVE JOSEPH PITTS (R-PA): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you
for holding this important hearing. It is important that we continue to stand
by the people of Egypt as they seek a stable and transparent democracy where
all Egyptian citizens are treated equally. Recent trends in Egypt in terms of
attacks against minorities are deeply disturbing.
Reports indicate that on October 16, teenager Ayman Labib was in his Arabic
class when the teacher told him to get rid of the cross tattooed on his wrist.
When Ayman said it was a tattoo, the teacher asked the other students, quote,
“What are we going to do about this,” end quote. And he incited the students
in the class to attack Ayman.
Ayman tried to flee but ultimately the students, with the support of their
teachers, murdered this young man. Egyptian news media controlled by the
military government, has tried to deny the sectarian foundation reasons of this
brutal murder. After the new antidiscrimination law put into place after
October 9 when Egyptian security forces ran over Copts with bulldozers, will
those teachers and adults and students be brought to justice for this brutal
The October 9 attacks by the military against peaceful protestors do not bode
well for the protection of fundamental rights for all Egyptians. The Egyptian
military must bring the perpetrators of these violent acts to justice through a
transparent investigation which punishes those truly responsible for those
I still have hope for a peaceful Egypt but that will only happen if those who
care about the protection of all people are in power. I look forward, Mr.
Chairman, to hearing from our guests. I look forward to hearing from
administration officials about specific actions they have taken to uphold and
protect the rights of minorities in Egypt. With that, I yield back.
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much, Commissioner Pitts. I’d like to now
introduce Michael Posner, who has served as assistant secretary of state for
the bureau of democracy, human rights and labor since September of 2009.
Prior to joining the State Department, Mr. Posner was the executive director
and the president of Human Rights First, where he established himself as a
leader in the defense of many critical human rights issues. He holds a J.D.
from the University of California at Berkeley and his full résumé will be made
a part of the record without objection. But I welcome Secretary Posner to our
commission. Please proceed.
MICHAEL POSNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing, for
inviting me to testify. We’ve worked together for many years and I’m always
appreciative and admiring of your passion, your commitment, your determination,
your unflagging energy to the cause of human rights. So I appreciate your
doing this today and I welcome, Congressman Pitts, your participation as well.
As you know, this is a time of substantial transition in Egypt as Egyptians
strive to move their country towards democracy. It’s not an easy process and
it’s not going to happen overnight. Egypt is only starting on the path from
parliamentary elections that will begin in a couple of weeks to the process of
drafting a new constitution and ?nally to presidential elections.
As part of this process, it’s vital that there be a place in the new Egypt for
all citizens, all religious minorities, of which the Coptic Christian community
is the largest. While the focus of this hearing and my testimony is on the
situation of the Copts, I want to point out there are other religious
minorities that also suffer official discrimination, groups like the Baha’i,
groups in the Muslim community - Shia, Ahmadiya, Quranist – as well as
Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons.
The Government continues to refuse to recognize conversions of Muslims to
Christianity or other religions which constitutes a prohibition in practice. I
want to set this testimony in a broader context. Last week, Secretary Clinton
gave an important policy address in which, Congressman Pitts, she echoed
something that you just said. She said: We support the aspirations of
citizens to live in societies that guarantee freedom, including freedom of
expression, assembly and religion. We strongly believe in systems that allow
citizens a say in how they’re governed and that they will – that they will be
provided with economic opportunities.
These are the demands we heard in Tahrir Square where Copts and Muslims joined
hands to protest and to pray. We’ve heard similar demands echoing throughout
the Middle East and elsewhere. Secretary Clinton also spoke out consistently
and has about the importance of religious freedom and religious tolerance both
of which are fundamental human rights. Religious freedom is guaranteed by
international human rights law.
I have a longer written statement which I ask be made part of the record. But
I just want to make three broad points about the Copts in Egypt. The first is
that they face discrimination for many years. They face personal and
collective discrimination especially in government employment, the ability to
build, renovate and repair places of worship.
Although they represent about 10 percent of the population, they play an
important role in Egypt’s economy. They’ve suffered widespread discrimination
and remain underrepresented in prominent positions in Egyptian politics and
society. The headlines tell a disturbing story. I was actually in Egypt in
January 2010 when there was the horrendous attack on the Nag Hammadi Church in
Gunmen shot and killed seven people and worshippers who were leaving midnight
mass. Yesterday actually the government official news agency announced that
two of the suspects in that murder who had previously been acquitted are about
to be retried on December 19th, which is a positive sign. But the attacks and
the violence has gone on.
About a year after the Nag Hammadi attack, on January 1st of this year, a bomb
exploded at the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Two Saints of Alexandria, killing
23 people and wounding a hundred. There are today no suspects in custody. The
second point is that the violent attacks that are historically there have
actually in some ways increased numerically since February 11th, since the
change of government.
We’ve received reports of at least 67 people killed in religious clashes, most
of them Coptic Christians. This brings the total number of reported deaths
this year to more than 90. There have been at least six reported major attacks
of violence against the Copts. I list them all in my testimony but I just want
to mention two.
On September 30th, in the Merinab village in Aswan, an estimated crowd of 3,000
Muslims looted and burned the St George Coptic Orthodox Church in addition to
some Copt-owned homes and businesses. The status of investigation in that case
And on October 9th, as you both have mentioned, in Cairo violence erupted in
front of the Egyptian television building known as the Maspero as a
demonstration by Copts protesting the government’s failure to investigate the
burning of the church in Merinab. At least 25 people were killed, more than
In these and other cases, we have made clear our deep concern about the
violence against the Coptic community and the need for accountability. On
October 11th, Secretary Clinton called for an immediate, credible, transparent
investigation of all those who were responsible for the Maspero violence with
full due process of law.
The White House issued a similar statement urging Egyptians to move forward to
forge a strong and united Egypt, reaffirming our belief in religious
minorities. In raising our concerns, we are aware that the government of Egypt
is doing some things and I want to point them out. They have in fact initiated
two investigations in response to the Maspero violence.
The first is an Egyptian armed forces review of the conduct of the military
police. As you’ve indicated, the military police according to eyewitnesses and
video evidence ran over and shot at demonstrators. Separately, military
prosecutors are investigating about 30 demonstrators, including one prominent
blogger, who were detained during the violence. They’re accused of inciting
violence and attacking security forces.
During the height of the clashes – and this is something I want to emphasize as
well – one of the state TV anchors called on honorable Egyptians to defend the
army against attacks by violent demonstrators. Twenty-one prominent Egyptian
human rights organizations have criticized the official media for what they
call their inflammatory role in actually provoking greater violence.
The Coptic community is as concerned as we are about the severity and frequency
of these attacks. While they recognize, as we do, that these attacks are not
necessarily not the product of government provocation, they’re greatly
concerned, as we are, about the need to hold perpetrators accountable.
I want to make clear that most of the clashes have involved both Copts and
Muslims and members of both communities have been perpetrators as well as
victims. It’s also important to note that many Muslims have stood up to defend
members of the Coptic community against extremist violence.
I want to finish with two other things that the government’s now doing which is
important for us to emphasize and reinforce. One, the government has pledged
to adopt a unified places of worship law which would guarantee all faiths the
ability to construct and maintain places of worship. This is a debate that’s
gone on for years. The government – the Cabinet sent a draft law to the
military council in October.
We urge strongly and we have been in discussion with the government the prompt
adoption of this provision would send a very strong signal of the government’s
commitment to protect religious freedom. And finally, we welcome steps the
government has taken to reduce discrimination in their penal code.
On October 15th, the SCAF issued a decree amending the penal code to prohibit
discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, language, faith or race. This
provision reinforces and will give life to Article 7 of the March 31st
constitutional declaration on the same subject. We urge the government to
enforce these provisions and to make nondiscrimination the order of the day.
Like Egyptian Muslims, Egyptian Copts are concerned about their country’s
future. In addition to security from sectarian violence and equal treatment
under the law, they want equal representation in parliament, a proportional
voice on the committee that will draft the new constitution. The vast majority
of Egyptians support religious freedom and we support their efforts.
As Secretary Clinton said last week, and I’m quoting here, “If over time the
most powerful political force in Egypt remains a room full of unelected
officials, they will have planted the seeds for future unrest and Egypt will
have missed an historic opportunity.”
Mr. Chairman, the door for real democratic change is only beginning to open in
Egypt. We hope Egyptians will walk through it together towards a more peaceful
and prosperous future. Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Secretary Posner, thank you very much for your testimony. And I’d
like to begin with a few questions. The first would be whether or not you
believe and whether or not the department believes that the Supreme Council of
the Armed Forces deliberately provoked a confrontation with the Coptic
Christian demonstrators on October 9th.
Will they be able to credibly investigate themselves regarding that incident as
they have claimed that they will? And then what steps do you believe that the
government will take – proactive steps to ensure that those kinds of events
don’t happen again?
MR. POSNER: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. We have – we see no evidence of
deliberate provocation. What is of concern and what I highlighted in the
testimony is, one, that there be a real investigation and accountability for
the actions of both the military police and the security forces. That’s the
first and best protection against future acts of violence.
There needs to be a clear demonstration that those responsible will be held
accountable and that the government is fully committed to investigating these
acts. The second – the piece that I talked about last I think also helps set a
climate of tolerance and of official recognition of the importance of
The unified law allowing churches and mosques on the same status and all
religions to build religious facilities, to repair them and the like, that’s an
important demonstration by the government that it is operating on the theory
that all religions need to be treated the same, as well as the provisions in
the penal code dealing with discrimination.
So I think those two things together – strong investigation, prosecution,
accountability and affirmative steps by the government by word and deed that
suggests in fact the new Egypt is one where there is no official discrimination
and the government respects the ability of every religion to practice freely.
REP. SMITH: If I could, with regards to the investigation, has the government
sought the help of ourselves or any other international law enforcement asset,
whether it be the FBI, Scotland Yard, any other Arab armed forces network to
ensure that it’s aggressive, credible and comprehensive?
You and I both remember that one of those – what helped in Northern Ireland
tremendously was when international investigators were invited to be – to work
in a cooperate way with the RUC to ensure that acts of violence by the
paramilitaries were investigated properly.
It takes the – I would suggest – the tinge out of whether or not it’s a real
investigation or not or whether or not there’s an effort to suppress evidence.
Has anything like that happened? Have they reached out to us or any other
MR. POSNER: I’m not aware of any request for our help. I will say one of the
things we are very mindful of and sensitive to is that both in the political
process and in the reform process these are steps that need to be led and
directed by the Egyptian people themselves. We stand ready and the government
knows that to provide assistance as it’s useful and necessary.
I know there have been some discussions in a broader sense. I’ve been part of
some of those discussions with the Ministry of Interior about ways in which
there can be, you know, enhanced police reform and training. We stand ready to
be helpful. But we are also mindful of the importance that these reforms need
to be initiated by and directed by the government of Egypt.
REP. SMITH: Is it something you think we should reach out to them purely on a
technical assistance basis? I mean, some of the very advanced protocols that
our law enforcement people employ certainly would ensure a more comprehensive
investigation. Is it something you might take back and look and see whether or
not that might be useful?
MR. POSNER: I’m glad to take that back. I had a good conversation with
Ambassador Patterson on Thursday. She is adept, as good as our diplomatic
corps ever produced. She knows the scene there very well now and is in
constant conversation both with the government and wit the SCAF.
And I have every confidence that if there’s a way in which we can be helpful,
we will make the government aware of that. And we certainly – it’s not lost on
the government of Egypt how important their next actions are with regard to
this attack. It’s gotten a huge amount of attention both here and in Egypt.
And they know well. This hearing is another example of the extent to which the
accountability issue needs to be addressed.
REP. SMITH: Secretary Posner, as you know, immediately prior to the revolution
there was a huge cut in economic assistance for human rights and democracy
building. And laying blame nowhere, whether it be on Congress or the
administration, it was rather significant. Could you tell us how much U.S.
economic assistance today is directed towards promoting human rights?
MR. POSNER: Well, as you know, Mr. Chairman, for FY ’10 we undertook to shift
some of the economic support funds to democracy and governance.
And some combination of our office, the Middle East partnership – MEPI – and
USAID are now funding a range of activities, support both for strengthening
democratic process, training of political parties, voter education, et cetera
but also work with independent labor unions, journalists on some of these
issues we’re discussing today.
The number I think is in the vicinity of $50 million for FY ’10. And I think
we’re – again, this is part of what the discussion has been internally in our
government and with members of Congress. I think it’s important that we now
recognize and we do that there are a range of places we can and should be
helpful in sustaining and encouraging the democratic process to go forward.
REP. SMITH: Just two final questions. How does a Coptic Christian raise a
concern with the government and work to protect their own civil liberties? Who
do they go to?
MR. POSNER: Well, I think, you know, one of the – hopefully one of the
signposts for the future will be the election over the next several months of a
new – of a new parliament which will include members of a new political order
who are going to be more open and responsive to the needs of all Egyptians,
including the Coptic community.
We are certainly encouraging Egyptians of all faiths to participate actively in
these elections which start on November 28th. And I would think that would be
the best starting place for people in the Coptic community and all Egyptians to
begin to use their democratic muscles and raise concerns of their own
REP. SMITH: But what happens – I was one of those who was skeptical and I
wasn’t alone in that, you know, as people were getting teary-eyed over whether
or not this meant real reform or a further consolidation by groups like the
And I would appreciate your thoughts on the Muslim Brotherhood, if you would,
whether or not perhaps we may as a government have underestimated their
savviness and appearing to be more moderate but now are consolidating more
And frankly, you know, in terms of election muscle, I mean, minorities by
definition are profoundly disadvantaged which is why, at least our country and
many countries, have very strong rules protecting minorities.
And I know, you know, there are places that – so many of us are known as
Democrats or Republicans, we run for election, if we’re gerrymandered into a
certain area, you know, you could provide the greatest service imaginable and
still not get elected and still not potentially have your voice heard.
And I think when you’re about 10 percent of the population and there is this
governmental or very profound bias against Coptic Christians, and as you
mentioned there are other ethnic or religious minorities as well, unless you
have strong protections, you know, their disadvantage becomes perhaps even
persecution, which I think is what’s happening now.
Dina Guirguis will testify later. And when you answer that, if you could just
respond to this comment because she said, or will say, one only needs to give a
cursory look at SCAF’s history since its assumption of power. Over 12,000
civilians have been tried in military tribunals that do not meet minimum
standards of due process.
Female protestors have been subjected to degrading virginity tests. The
notorious emergency law has been extended and numerous laws restricting freedom
of assembly and even criminalizing criticism of the military have been opaquely
passed and enforced in draconian fashion.
And then she goes on, local rights groups have already decried these abuses
even more, including SCAF’s pre-election conduct which observers accurately
note portends to substantial fraud in the upcoming elections where Islamists
are expected to win a substantial parliamentary presence. That paints an
extremely ominous present and certainly a more ominous future. What’s your
take on that?
MR. POSNER: You know, I would say having worked in the human rights field for
30-some years that I’m an eternal optimist. So take this comment with that in
mind. I believe we are at the beginning of a transition in Egypt. Some might
call it a transition to a transition. I don’t think we can expect to see
instantaneously the kind of a democratic foundation laid that we would all hope
and expect to see over time.
Secretary Clinton in her speech last week spoke about this and I think some of
the elements you’ve raised are exactly the things we need to be pressing on.
We do believe that there ought to be and needs to be a lifting of the state of
We do believe that there needs to be an opening up of the process for, you
know, there to be a real lively debate where multiple parties are allowed to
function freely, where there’s a free press, where state television takes on a
more balanced approach, where religious freedom flourishes. Those things are
going to happen over time if there’s a sustained push by Egyptian people
supported by governments like ours to do that.
We don’t believe – we don’t – what we want to see is that parties that are
committed to rejecting violence, that abide by the rule of law, that respect
freedoms of speech, religion, association, that respect the rights of women are
allowed to participate.
Our view is if that happens over time we’re going to get a result that we like
that’s going to lead to a real democratic transition. We’ve got to hold our
nerve. We’ve got to stay involved and engaged. But I think we all understand
that there are a range of challenges that we face in the coming weeks and
months that we need to be attentive to and we need to be at the same time
patient and resolute.
REP. SMITH: Is there concern that we might be underestimating the Muslim
MR. POSNER: I think we are certainly as we watch what is happening it’s clear
that the Muslim Brothers are well organized as a political party and that they
will compete actively and aggressively in the election. Again, the decision
about who to vote for is for the people of Egypt.
Our role and our goal needs to be to promote a long-term democratic transition
that’s based on the notion of strengthening of a political process that’s going
to lead to a democratic, freely elected government, a constitution that
supports that and the democratic infrastructure that yields the kind of result
that we’re going to be – that Egyptian people are going to feel proud of and
that’s going to make them a good and stable ally.
REP. SMITH: I do have one final question. And that would be a few months ago
Michele Clark, who used to be number two at ODIHR and you and I did have a
conversation about this, as you’ll recall, testified and said, it’s no longer a
matter of allegation that young Coptic teenage girls are abducted. She said
the number was in the thousands.
And when they turn 18, after the kidnapping, they are given to an Islamic man,
a Muslim man who then makes her his wife. Women are often subjected to a great
deal of exploitation, compounding the original kidnapping itself.
And she even talked about the very awful term that this is an Islamization of
the womb, Islamicizing the womb, that whatever children she bears will be
Muslim, which is an absolutely outrageous human rights abuse from every way
that it’s looked at – the kidnapping, the trafficking, the forced conversion
and then the subsequent forced conversions of any children born to her in that
Have you been able to look into that as a bureau? I know the ambassador –
Congressman Wolf took the information from that hearing and had a meeting in
his office and asked her to, you know, aggressively look into it. Michele said
– Clark said that, you know, we should no longer use the word allegation, that
it’s beyond that. She did the investigations herself.
And matter of fact, she said, these reports – this is her quote from July 22nd
here in this room at a commission hearing: “These reports are not allegations
nor should they be disputed. Coptic women disappear.
Coptic women are forcibly converted or converted under false pretenses. And
Coptic women are forcibly married to Muslim men.” What is your – what has your
investigation or look into this discovered?
MR. POSNER: We are – I know that you’ve raised this and we had a previous
conversation about it. And I have made inquiries about the particular cases.
We have – let me say broadly we obviously are greatly concerned about the
Egyptian government’s failure to allow conversion of Muslims to Christianity
and the various measures, coercive or discriminatory measures against those who
seek to express their religious faith.
The particular cases that she raised, we have not been able to substantiate the
facts, although I’d be willing or people in our office would be willing to meet
But we are concerned about the broader phenomenon of the kind of coercive or
discriminatory measures against people who are either trying to convert from
Islam to Christianity, which the government doesn’t recognize, or the kinds of
coercive things that she raises. Again, the particular cases I can’t speak to.
REP. SMITH: If you could –
MR. POSNER: But if –
REP. SMITH: Oh, I’m sorry, Mr. Secretary. If you could, how robustly have we
tried to substantiate – have foreign service officers or human rights officers
gone into the field? Have they done extensive interviews to determine whether
or not this is a barbaric phenomenon that’s ongoing?
MR. POSNER: We have made inquiries through the embassy. And what I can do and
I will do and I promise to do is go back. I’d actually like to get a hold of
her testimony and maybe have people in our office talk to her and then we can
look at the specific cases that she raises. And we’d be glad to look at it in
REP. SMITH: So just to be clear, have any of our human right investigators
gone out and done first-person reporting on this?
MR. POSNER: Well, I think you and others have said this is a phenomenon and
the cases that have come to our attention we have gone to look to see can we
verify the facts. We haven’t been able to do that. But that doesn’t mean it’s
So what I would suggest is let’s – let me take a look at the testimony that she
gave to you. If there are particular cases and facts, we welcome getting them.
And then we will – I will endeavor to make sure that either people in my
office or people in the embassy follow up and they get to the bottom of what’s
happening in those cases.
REP. SMITH: If you could, because her testimony was very, very incisive and
outrageous, what she uncovered. I mean, she even went through how it’s often
done, the befriending of Coptic girls by Muslim girls, that it’s a process and
that it’s just – as well as straight-up, flat-out abductions and all leading to
the same consequence.
MR. POSNER: Right. The thing that would be most helpful to us is if there are
particular cases with facts, et cetera, that we can then pursue rather than the
REP. SMITH: Sure. But if we could also be looking to see on our own, you
know, not just following up on one of her leads because it would seem to me
that, you know, it’s like any other kind of abuse. Unless we’re really
aggressively looking for it, it is so easy to conceal this.
And so I’d like to – before I yield to Commissioner Pitts, you know, Fred
Grandy, a former distinguished member of the House of Representatives, is here.
He’s executive vice president of the Center for Security Policy. I want to
welcome our former colleague for joining us today. Thank you – thank him for
his work on Egypt. I’d like to yield to Mr. Pitts.
REP. PITTS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Secretary Posner, thank you for your
testimony. Do you have or could you provide a list of the actions such as
meetings with advocacy groups, public statements, conversations with Egyptian
officials, activities at the UN that this administration including the State
Department has taken since January to support the rights of minorities in
Egypt? And if this list is not available today, could you provide us as list
MR. POSNER: Sure. You know, there are – you just mentioned five or six
categories of things and we’ve done – we’ve taken actions in all of those
areas. I can certainly – I’m not sure I can present a comprehensive list but I
can certainly send you what we can put together a representative list of the
kinds of discussions we’ve had with the government, the kinds of support and
discussions we’ve had with civil society.
I routinely when I’m in Egypt meet with civil society groups. It’s most of
what I do, meet with the government as well but we also meet with groups here.
So I’d be glad to provide some representative or illustrative examples of what
we’re doing. We take these issues extremely seriously.
This is an extremely important area to Secretary Clinton, to me personally.
And we’re very aware of the precarious state of the Coptic community. These
attacks are very serious and we want to do whatever we can to put – you know,
to make sure that this kind of violence doesn’t continue and this kind of
REP. PITTS: Thank you. What actions has the State Department taken since the
October 9 incident when the military directly attacked and killed Egyptian
citizens? To press the Egyptian government for a transparent investigation and
to press the Egyptian government to prosecute those who were actually
responsible for the murders of citizens?
MR. POSNER: As I mentioned briefly in my oral comments, I think there’s a bit
more detail in the statement I submitted. Both the president and Secretary
Clinton have issued public statements about the attack. Ambassador Patterson
has been engaged almost on a daily basis since October 9th in urging and
reiterating the importance of there being a strong investigation and
prosecution of those who are involved. We are very mindful of the potential
for there to be an escalation of violence.
This was a tragic incident where people were killed, many more injured. And so
we have been very, very mindful of it. I’ve talked several times to Ambassador
Patterson about it and she is completely aware of all the details. There have
been discussions with the military, discussions with security forces, ministry
of interior and the like. We will continue to press.
As I said in the testimony, there are two investigations underway.
Investigation doesn’t equal results. And so our focus now is making sure that
the people who were involved in these violent acts are brought to justice, that
there are prosecutions and convictions and that the government is clear in its
public statement and its action that this kind of violence cannot be
REP. PITTS: We all know that if there are no prosecutions of these violent
acts against the minority groups – the Coptic Christians – then violence is
going to continue. Do you know of any successful prosecutions against violent
acts against Coptic Christians?
MR. POSNER: Yeah. And, you know, again I would come back first of all to the
tragic attacks in Nag Hammadi in January of 2010. I was in Egypt literally two
weeks after those people were gunned down. I met with the ministry – the head
of state security. I met with people in the government to make just the point
There has to be a serious investigation that leads to prosecutions. One of the
principal perpetrators was prosecuted and convicted. Two were acquitted, and
as I mentioned in my testimony, yesterday the government – the court reopened
the case against those two and they will be put on trial before a military
court on December 19th. So that’s one example.
There are several others. But we’re not satisfied that enough has been done.
And certainly in the case of the October 9th violence, it’s critical that there
be a full investigation and prosecution.
REP. PITTS: Thank you. What role should the United States play in promoting
human rights and religious freedom specifically? The chairman asked about how
much economic assistance was directed towards promoting human rights. What
kind of things should we be doing specifically to promote these principles?
MR. POSNER: Well, I think in a broad sense all of the building blocks of
democracy are information and we ought to do what we can to reinforce that
development. There is a lively civil society in Egypt. But many of the
organizations are not yet able to register. We’ve raised concerns about that.
We need to be supportive of an independent media.
We need to support bloggers and activists who continue to raise concerns that
are among the issues we’re discussing today. So there are a range of things
that I think we’ve begun to do and we need to stay the course. We need to make
sure that there is a move away from a government that relies on an emergency
law, move more towards a civilian rule of law and we need to support a
political process that allows multiple views by nonviolent people – parties –
that respect religious freedom, freedom of speech, association and the rights
REP. PITTS: Now, you mentioned earlier the importance of diversity. How could
the authorities involve Islamic and Christian religious establishments in a
strategy to strengthen this idea of diversity, of values, of religious
tolerance and coexistence?
MR. POSNER: You know this is a process. I think we start from a premise – I
start from a premise that for several decades institutions of government and
nongovernmental institutions were ossified. They weren’t allowed to flourish
and operate openly.
And so when I say we’re in a beginning of a transition, we’re at a place where
we can encourage but Egyptian people have to lead in creating a more open
discussion both about advancing pluralistic democratic political process but as
part of that encouraging diversity of views, diversity of religions, diversity
of perspectives to be part of that mix.
We take these things for granted in a society where we’ve had a lot of
experience dealing with it. We’re in, in Egypt, in a very early stage of a
transitional process where all of these elements are still being set up, as it
REP. PITTS: What about training, for instance, for judges, for prosecutors,
for police, teachers, whomever, those who are responsible for administering and
applying the law about respecting these rights?
MR. POSNER: I think those are critical elements. And those are very much –
REP. PITTS: Are we engaged in encouraging that?
MR. POSNER: Absolutely. I mean, there are discussions going on now between our
governments about how can we best support a transformation, transition in the
police. We have – there’s a long history of the police playing a – state
security playing roles that we would consider antithetical to the way in which
we practice democracy.
And so it’s important that there be a move towards professionalizing the
police, professionalizing the courts, creating, as I say, strong civilian
institutions that are the kind of foundation, the basis for a democracy. All
of that’s on the table. We’re doing training already of some of the political
parties, voter education and all of that.
But democracy isn’t just elections. It’s also building those strong
institutions – police, prosecutors, courts, the media. All of those
institutions are part of what makes sustainable democracy real. And we’re very
much engaged in the discussion of all those things. Again, I want to say
again, though, we need to take our lead from people of Egypt.
This is their moment of transition and it’s critical that Egyptians lead. We
are more than willing – we’re eager to be a strong partner in those efforts.
But we’ve got to come in in a way that reinforces what Egyptians themselves are
demanding and pursuing.
REP. PITTS: Thank you. Now, I was a little surprised with your answer to the
chairman about this barbaric practice of forced, you know, kidnapping and
forced conversion, if you will, forced marriages and conversion of Coptic
Christians. For, you know, 15 years I’ve talked to people in Egypt who said
this is a common practice. Doesn’t the State Department – aren’t they aware of
this? Aren’t they pursuing this issue?
MR. POSNER: As I said, Congressman, we are very aware of the discriminatory
practices that make it very difficult, for example, for people to convert from
Islam to Christianity. We are aware of the discrimination and some of the
harassment of the Christian community. That’s what this hearing is about. On
the subject of abductions –
REP. PITTS: And marriage – forced marriage.
MR. POSNER: And forced marriage – the broad allegations are out there. What
we’re – what we need and what we’re looking for are specific cases that we can
pursue. If we get those cases, we will pursue them ourselves and raise them
with the government.
We know those allegations are out there but as of this moment they’re not
specific cases where we’ve been able to substantiate what’s been alleged in a
broad sense. I’m not saying it doesn’t happen. What I’m saying is the more
information we get, I am very open – in fact eager – to get information about
specific cases that we can then examine ourselves and take to the government of
REP. SMITH: Would my friend yield?
REP. PITTS: Yes.
REP. SMITH: My concern is that we’re not even looking and not looking – I
mean, this isn’t something that’s going to walk up and say, here’s a forced
Because of retaliation, because of the killing of the young woman or the fact
that in many cases she feels that she cannot go back to her Coptic family and
all the other reasons, this is something that very aggressively, if not and
covertly probably, has to be looked at which is why human rights investigators
– I mean, I would hope there would be no takeaway for the Egyptian government
and somehow our government in saying it has not been substantiated.
I believe that the evidence is compelling. It awaits further investigation.
But we need to be, I think, as aggressive as all get out. I mean, you know,
anyone who – any daughter, any young woman to be abducted and forced into what
I really believe is sexual slavery and to lose your faith and your life and to
be forcibly married through some level and degree of coercion is among the
worst human rights abuses I can possibly think of.
So I would hope the takeaway would be to deploy our Foreign Service or human
rights officers and to do a major study on this, to initiate something that is
– that leaves no stone unturned. And we need to bring this up in every
possible forum with the SCAF and every other official in Egypt.
MR. POSNER: Congressman, we will – I share the concern. We will – I will make
sure – I will redouble our efforts with our embassy to make sure they are
pursuing this subject in the way that you suggest. It would also help us if
there are particular cases that come to your attention. That makes it easier
for us to pursue this in a more concrete way.
REP. PITTS: Yeah, I thank you for that. I know that is a desire. But you
have to also keep in mind you don’t want to jeopardize the lives, the safety of
the families, the women, you know, who are involved in this horrific practice.
But thank you very much. We appreciate your willingness to look into that.
REP. SMITH: Commissioner Pitts, thank you very much. And I’d just like to ask
one final question, Mr. Secretary.
MR. POSNER: Sure.
REP. SMITH: And in a way, we’ve talked about it but just to get your reaction
to this statement by Dr. Michele Dunne from the Rafik Hariri Center for the
Middle East of the Atlantic Council. In her testimony, she’ll say, the SCAF
approach has been almost identical to that of the Mubarak era.
That is, after each sectarian incident the authorities promise to investigate
and prosecute crimes vigorously and to address the underlying causes of the
incident such as discriminatory laws regarding the building and the alteration
of places of worship. But as soon as public attention moves on, such efforts
are either abandoned or long delayed, leaving the victims with a sense of
injustice and the perpetrators with a sense of impunity and sewing the seeds of
In cases where military government or government officials are accused of
complicity in violence or at least irresponsibility in dealing with it, the
SCAF has staunchly resisted accountability. Is that a true statement or a
MR. POSNER: Well, I think I would answer that by saying we are now at a
critical moment following the October 9th violence. And what I’ve said here
and what I think this hearing has helped us amplify is the need, one, for
accountability. There are two investigations going on. It’s important that
you and we stay the course in monitoring the progress of those investigations.
And the other piece is the government’s stronger commitment to adopt a unified
law of construction of new religious sites, repairs, et cetera and to amend the
penal code in a way that fights discrimination in a more particular way. I
want to leave this hearing with a sense that these are priorities for the
I think it’s great that you’ve had this hearing. It helps draw attention to
these issues. And there should be no doubt in anybody’s mind that we are
highly attentive to the need for accountability and for affirmative expressions
by the government of their desire to end practices of discrimination.
REP. SMITH: We’re joined by Gus Bilirakis from Florida. Mr. Bilirakis, do you
have any statements or comments you’d like to make?
REPRESENTATIVE GUS BILIRAKIS (R-FL): I do have a statement, if that’s all
REP. SMITH: Absolutely.
REP. BILIRAKIS: OK. Thank you very much. I’m on the – (off mic.)
REP. SMITH: You’ve got to put your mic on.
REP. BILIRAKIS: Thank you. But anyway, I’m sorry that I’m late. I commend,
of course, Chairman Smith and Chairman McGovern for holding this very important
hearing. I’ve been heartsick over recent tragic events that have taken place
in Egypt against the Coptic Christians. It is devastating what is happening to
them under the current military regime in Egypt.
The United States should contemplate defunding the Egyptian military until they
can guarantee the religious freedom of all minority faiths, specifically the
Coptic Christians. Christians are dying or being displaced as we speak.
Perpetuating religious freedom for all minority religions, and especially
Christians, in the Middle East will continue to be a top priority of mine.
I look forward to meeting with your brothers and sisters here in faith later
this week and I have some constituents coming up, Mr. Speaker, as well. But we
need to do everything we can on behalf of religious freedom throughout the
world, particularly in the Middle East. Thank you very much for giving me the
Thank you, Mr. Secretary. I appreciate you being here. Thank you for your
testimony. We’re having a little trouble with the microphone. I apologize.
And then I’d like to introduce the next panel.
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much.
REP. BILIRAKIS: OK, I’d like to introduce the second panel. Welcome. First,
we have Dina Guirguis – I hope I pronounced that correctly. She’s an
Egyptian-American democracy activist and attorney and member of the
Egyptian-American Rule of Law Association.
Formerly, she was the Keston Family research fellow in The Washington Institute
for Near East Policy’s Project Fikra. She founded and was editor of a near
real-time Arabic English blog called Fikra Forum, connecting Arab activists
with U.S. policymakers on issues of regional political reform.
Prior to joining the institute, Ms. Guirguis was the executive director of
Voices for Democratic Egypt. She holds a J.D. from Vanderbilt University Law
Next, we have Samuel Tadros. Samuel is a research fellow with the Center for
Religious Freedom and the Hudson Institute. Before joining Hudson in 2011, Mr.
Tadros was a senior partner at the Egyptian Union of Liberal Youth, an
organization that aims to spread the ideas of classical liberalism in Egypt.
He previously interned at the American Enterprise Institute and worked as a
consultant for both the Hudson Institute on moderate Islamic thinkers and the
Heritage Foundation on religious freedom in Egypt. He holds a master’s degree
from Georgetown University.
Next, we have Michele Dunne. She is the director of the Atlantic Council Rafik
– I don’t know if I’m pronouncing this right – but Rafik Hariri Center for the
Middle East. Dr. Dunne has served in the White House on the National Security
Council staff, on the State Department’s policy planning staff and its bureau
of intelligence and research and was a diplomat in Cairo and Jerusalem.
Prior to joining the Atlantic Council, she was a senior associate at the
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace where she edited the Arab Reform
Bulletin and carried out research on Arab politics and U.S. policies. She
holds a doctorate in Arabic language and linguistics from Georgetown
And now we’ll begin the testimony. Ms. Guirguis, you’re recognized for five
minutes. Thank you.
DINA GUIRGUIS: Thank you. Good afternoon. Can you hear me? Can you hear me
now? Great. Good afternoon and thank you to Chairman Smith for organizing
this timely hearing. Thank you, Congressman Bilirakis. I’m especially pleased
to have the opportunity to give testimony on Egypt’s not only continuing but
growing sectarian problem. I would even characterize it as a crisis at this
To begin with: If I die, take me to Tahrir. These were the last words uttered
by Mina Daniel, a young man in Maspero who eventually succumbed to a sniper
bullet that entered his chest and exited through his lower back on October 9th,
which has come to be known as “Bloody Sunday.” Mina’s story is only the most
recent example of the plight of Egypt’s Christians, a tragic manifestation of
Egypt’s sectarian crisis, a matter n which I testified earlier this year in
At that time, I began my testimony by quoting 22-year-old Miriam Fekry, who had
posted a New Year’s prayer for 2011 on her Facebook page, just hours before she
was killed in a heinous attack on the Two Saints Church in Alexandria on New
Year's eve which left at least 21 people dead.
Then, I stated that Miriam’s hopes, and ultimate fate, and now joining her,
Mina Daniel’s, even after Egypt’s promising revolution, so tragically and
poignantly illustrate the plight of the Coptic people, Egypt’s native
Christians, who represent 10 to 15 percent of Egypt’s 83 million people. I
stated that while the Copts are the Middle East’s largest Christian minority,
they have faced an alarming escalation of violence as state protection has
I explained that for at least three decades, we, the Copts, have been offered
an authoritarian compact of sorts. The Copts, as all Egyptians, were to live
under a draconian emergency law suspending basic constitutional protections, in
exchange for the delivery of stability and protection from terrorism.
In those three decades, however, Egypt failed to make adequate progress on key
developmental indicators, and Egypt’s human rights record fared no better.
Egypt’s record on religious freedom went from bad to worse, placing it on the
U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s watch list since 2002.
After Egypt's revolution, the commission recommended, for the ?rst time, the
further downgrade of Egypt's status, designating Egypt as a, quote, “country of
particular concern,” or CPC, for, quote, "engaging in and tolerating egregious
violations of freedom of religion or belief.”
While religious freedom conditions in Egypt had been deteriorating during the
last years of the Mubarak regime," the commission stated, "since Mubarak’s
ouster on February 11th, conditions have further deteriorated,” end quote. In
the commission's view, this deterioration has warranted Egypt's ranking
alongside China, Iran and Afghanistan.
I last testi?ed on Egypt's sectarian problem on January 20th, only five days
before the Egyptian revolution broke out. Back then, I had described the
authoritarian pact offered by the Mubarak regime as an illusory Faustian
bargain. I argued the real answer to Egypt’s sectarian crisis is progress
toward a democratic state that respects human rights, applies the rule of law
and extends equal constitutional protections to all citizens.
I also noted that the Egyptian regime will avoid doing so at all costs. But we
soon learned that Egyptians‘ frustration with decades of tyranny could not be
inde?nitely contained, and on January 25th, Egyptians of all stripes took to
the streets to demonstrate precisely that.
Somewhat cautiously, Christians regarded the revolution as a potential turning
point and joined their fellow Muslim citizens in demanding fundamental change
which they hoped would entail a new Egypt based on principles of equal
citizenship, rule of law and individual freedoms. Instead, Egypt's current
trajectory highlights not just substantial challenges to democratic transition,
but the absence of political will from the current military regime to affect
In the process, Egypt's vulnerable groups, including the Copts, women and
others, are more susceptible than ever to unprecedented violence and
insecurity. In 2011 alone, Copts have been the target of 33 sectarian attacks,
12 of which involved an attack on a church. The combined casualties, even
before the latest Maspero massacre, include 72 dead, as well as a substantial
number of Christian homes, property and churches destroyed.
With the Maspero massacre, the death toll rises to 97, and the number of those
injured exceeds 400. Compared to 2010, these statistics represent more than a
six-fold increase in Christian casualties in 2011.
While some may blame the revolution for this serious escalation and praise the
relative stability of the Mubarak days, I submit that the same societal ills
and more signi?cantly the insidious state role in inciting sectarian violence
plague Egypt more than ever today.
And that responsibility lies in no small measure squarely at the foot of the
military dictatorship, represented by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces,
or SCAF, which has adopted the old authoritarian tactics while proclaiming
itself, quote, “the revolutionary government."
For decades, the regime encouraged and capitalized on the growth of a culture
of discrimination against religious minorities, and eventually sectarian crimes
became crimes of impunity. We’ve already heard about that from Assistant
Secretary Posner. Substituting the extension of the rule of law and equal
protection, the state always insisted on, quote, "reconciliation sessions,”
where victims and perpetrators were coerced into extrajudicial extra-judicial
settlements by the state security apparatus.
In March of 2011, after Mubarak’s ouster, when a Christian man had his ear
severed by hardline Islamists known as Sala?s in Upper Egypt, SCAF very
powerfully conveyed the message of impunity by forcing the victim, that man,
not to bring legal charges and failing to investigate or bring the perpetrators
Perceiving the continuation of the status quo, this and similar incidents
strengthened extremists‘ convictions that not only would the state tolerate
blatant persecution of Christians and minorities, but it would do so with a nod
and wink for its own interests, much like the days of the Mubarak era.
Capitalizing on an environment of police absence from Egyptian streets
following the Egyptian revolution – a massive security failure on the interim
government's part which itself requires investigation and accountability – the
Sala?s – hardline Islamists – once again lashed out at Christians in May, when
they accused the Coptic church of holding alleged Christian converts to Islam
against their will.
Incitement by the Sala?s in a poor, crowded neighborhood of Cairo resulted in
an all-out war between Muslims and Christians which lasted for hours, without
absolutely no police or military intervention, leaving 12 dead and two churches
burnt to the ground at the end of the day.
The response of SCAF to the incident was to send in a Sala? preacher known as
Mohamed Hassan to the neighborhood to pacify the situation. This preacher has
long been known for his incitement against Christians and calls for their
second-class citizenship. He is also the same man that was granted a podium and
allowed by the military regime to preach from Tahrir Square in the weeks
following Mubarak's ouster, where he was given free rein to express hate speech.
I refer you specifically to this example because I think Chairman Smith had
asked Assistant Secretary Posner whether the government was in any way involved
in provoking sectarian incidents. And these are some very minor examples and
While the churches were rebuilt, no one was held to account for the day's
heinous violence, and when interviewed about this in the independent media,
SCAF General Hassan El-Reweiny stated that it was, quote, “preposterous” to
demand further action on the matter, including an investigation and arrests,
since the churches were, after all, rebuilt.
Once again, taking their cue from the SCAF's Mubarakist treatment of Egypt's
vicious sectarianism, extremist Muslim youths in an Upper Egyptian town called
Edfu took it upon themselves in September to destroy a church because it
allegedly lacked the necessary permits, even though the church was an ancient
one and had been operating for years. Rather than hold the youth to account,
the region’s governor instead praised them.
SCAF subsequently refused an independent commission’s recommendation that the
governor be removed. With these successive tragedies in mind and years of
societal intolerance, institutionalized discrimination and state complicity and
incitement continuing with the SCAF's blessing, Christians took peacefully to
the streets on October 9th, as they had alongside other Egyptians during the
18-day uprising, to protest the military regime’s denial of basic civil
Muslim activists and sympathizers joined them in their call. They were, as we
all know now, met with disproportional violence, culminating in live shootings
and the crushing of unarmed civilians by armored personnel carriers, or APCs.
Meanwhile, while the corpses of civilians, most of whom were Christian, were
being taken to hospitals, Egyptian state television misrepresented the facts,
stating that, quote, “Coptic gangs,” had killed three soldiers and were
attacking the military in a manner, quote, “not even the Israelis would dare,"
end quote, even going so far as to exhort, quote, “honorable Egyptians" to come
to the defense of their military against these elements.
This incitement directly led to vigilante acts – this incitement directly led
to vigilante acts of sectarian violence in Cairo's streets, where some Muslims
sought out Christians – sought out and targeted Christians for retribution and
beatings or worse.
Unsurprisingly but no less tragically, the SCAF's ensuing press conference
addressing the tragedy blamed the victims and exhorted Egyptians to, quote,
“put themselves in the place of the soldier driving the armored – the armored
carrier, who was understandably confused and panicked."
Adding insult to injury, the SCAF praised the role of Egyptian state TV and
when asked about the names of the alleged military casualties, refused to
release them for, quote, "security reasons.” Again, when we’re talking about
provocation of the state, this is a very, very blatant example. Egypt state TV
does not act independently of the government.
Thus, in the aftermath of the revolution, the state itself has continued
institutionalized discrimination and encouraged the growth of a culture of
sectarianism and impunity to act on that sectarianism. During the last days of
the Mubarak era, a Cairo-based human rights organization had described Egypt as
a, quote, “police state infused increasingly with theocratic elements."
I would submit that if you substitute the words "police state" with "military
state," this would be an accurate description of the state of things today. The
military regime continues to count on divide and conquer tactics to consolidate
It continues to scapegoat the Copts to de?ect from its own governance failures.
It continues to sow instability and simultaneously present itself as the sole
solution to that instability, justifying along the way the continuation or
institution of new repressive practices and laws.
One need only give a cursory look at SCAF's history since its assumption of
power. As the chairman quoted, over 12,000 civilians have been tried in
military tribunals that do not meet minimum standards of due process.
Female protesters have been subjected to degrading virginity tests, the
notorious emergency law which Egyptians were ruled by for three decades and
were looking forward its removal, as soon as Mubarak left, was extended and
numerous laws restricting freedom of assembly and even criminalizing criticism
of the military have been opaquely passed and enforced in draconian fashion.
Local rights groups are already decrying these abuses and more, including the
SCAF's pre-election conduct which observers accurately note portends
substantial fraud in upcoming elections where Islamists are expected to win a
substantial parliamentary presence.
This parliament, according to the SCAF's transition plan, will be responsible
for the drafting of Egypt's new constitution, raising doubts about whether such
a document will embody the aspirations of Egyptians, as expressed through their
revolution, which rejected notions of both autocracy and theocracy but rather
expressed a desire for a civil, meaning nonmilitary and nonreligious state.
Attempts by the SCAF to issue, quote, "guiding principles" for the constitution
are little comfort. While the U.S. government may be banking on SCAF to turn
Egypt into a pre-Erdogan Turkish model, what is actually unfolding is more
analogous to models such as the Pakistani one, entailing greater collusion
between military authorities and Islamists at the expense of all other
political forces. This is clearly a dangerous situation.
Avoiding this outcome requires that the U.S. not fall into the trap it
previously did with Mubarak, placing as it did all its bets on the
authoritarian partner and a police state, which is what we have today.
This means that the U.S. must insist that its support during and for Egypt's
transition be contingent on a prompt and genuine democratic transition to a
civilian authority which represents the aspirations of all Egyptians and
guarantees the equal rights of all, starting with the immediate cessation of
sectarian incitement and elimination of all forms of discrimination.
And including but not limited to immediate security sector reform entailing the
prompt return of police to the streets, the conduct of free and fair and
monitored elections, an inclusive and transparent constitutional drafting
process, the elimination of laws that repress basic rights and the expansion of
the political space to allow a greater role for civil society and nonreligious
political parties and ultimately a free civilian presidential race which
represents a true handoff of power from the military.
Egypt's civilian president must then go about undoing decades of the disease of
pernicious sectarianism which has in?ltrated society through undertaking
substantial legal, institutional, educational and media reform, all vast tasks
which only a person entrusted and vested with the faith of Egyptians and the
interests of Egypt, and not the interests of a few privileged generals, could
We owe it to those who sacri?ced to herald a new era of freedom in the Middle
East. We owe it to a young Mina Daniel, who while anticipating being killed by
Mubarak’s police forces while camped out in Tahrir Square during Egypt’s
courageous 18-day uprising, survived then, only to be massacred a few months
later at the hands of Mubarak's successors, who represent more of the same.
REPRESENTATIVE CHRIS SMITH (R-NJ): Ms. Guirguis, thank you very much for your
very powerful testimony and for previous testimonies you’ve provided to this
commission. I’d like to yield to Mr. Aderholt, distinguished member of this
commission, for any comments he might have.
REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT ADERHOLT (R-AL): Thank you. Just I came in late and so
into the panel and I apologize for my tardiness. But the – you know, the SCAF
is what, you know, is certainly disconcerting about a lot of the reports that
we’ve heard. But I guess my question would be just, you know, in your opinion
do you think that they have deliberately provoked confrontation with Coptic
Christians, basically going back to that date of October 9th.
MS. GUIRGUIS: This question is directed at me, I assume? OK, just didn’t –
the specific events in terms of who started shooting when and where are still
being parsed out. And I suspect that will remain unclear for some time given
that the military has undertaken to investigate itself whereas it is the
accused party in all of this, which truly undermines the independence of any
What is clear, however, is one thing which is the incitement of the state or
official TV on that day. I, as most Egyptians living abroad, was glued to
Egyptian TV on that day and following the independent media as well. And the
vast different in reporting was quite stunning. As I stated before, official
Egyptian TV can never act independently, would certainly never release numbers
of military causalities and actually name an aggressor party without direct
orders from the SCAF.
In fact, after the incident when there was a lot of criticism regarding the
conduct of the official media in covering the massacre, a group of anchors that
were working for official TV resigned in protest. And they explicitly in their
statement stated that they had received explicit orders from the SCAF in terms
of what to report and how to report that incident.
And as I mentioned, the reporting led to direct violence. And as a lawyer, I
can tell you that this rises to the level of criminal incitement, which is –
should be punishable by law. So clearly in that instance, the instance of the
incitement of the official media, the SCAF can be the only responsible party.
REP. ADERHOLT: OK, thank you. Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I may have some
more questions after the rest of the testimony. Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Aderholt, thank you so very much. I’d like to now recognize
for purposes of receiving his testimony, Samuel Tadros, research fellow, Hudson
Institute Center for Religious Freedom. Please proceed as you would like.
SAMUEL TADROS: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for holding this timely and
important hearing and for inviting me to testify today on the plight of Egypt’s
Christians and what it signifies for the prospects of a democratic transition
The title of today’s hearing suggests a correlation and a linkage between
religious freedom, or more precisely the lack thereof and democracy and the
prospects of a democratic Egypt. Unfortunately, for many policymakers, this
linkage has been absent. The modern debasement of the concept of a free
society to essentially mean the holding of elections has led to people ignoring
the religious freedom as a foundation for a truly free society.
The recent massacre of Copts while signi?cant in terms of the number of people
that were killed has to be viewed as part of an ongoing pattern that has taken
its effect for many years. That pattern is a continuation of events and
attacks that had been conducted before during the Mubarak regime and before
that and continue after the revolution. The three main parties that influence
and take part in this pattern of discrimination are the Islamists, the Egyptian
government and the general population.
Instead of naming the specific incidents that my colleague has mentioned, I
think it’s important to look at how those three elements work together to
create this culture of intolerance and attacks on Christians. The first party
in that regard, the Islamists, have conducted numerous attacks on Christians.
We’ve seen a number of those attacks, most recently before the revolution, the
Alexandria church bombing on New Year’s Eve.
The state, for its part, has a number of very discriminatory laws against
Christians limiting the number of Christians in government service and putting
restrictions on the building of churches.
On the other hand, the government also participates in encouraging this culture
through its impunity that it provides to the people conducting the attacks.
The undersecretary mentioned the latest incident where someone was for the
first time punished for one of those incidents in the Nag Hammadi attack.
Unfortunately, this is the first time that such action is taken. We’ve seen a
long number – a long list of attacks where no one has ever been punished for
them, creating the impression that attacking Christians was unpunishable and
The third element, and the most problematic for the future of Christians in
Egypt, is the general intolerance amongst their Muslim countrymen. This
increase in number of attacks by ordinary Muslims encouraged at certain moments
by Islamists, whether the Salafis or others, or driven by their own feelings of
– or their opinions about Copts, this number of attacks has been very
If we can think that the government can be stopped or restrained by certain
actions, that the U.S. can take or pressure applied, if we can think that the
Islamists can be contained somehow, it is the fact of being attacked by one’s
neighbors that is very problematic for the future of Christians in the Middle
As Egyptians took to the streets in January and February, there were huge hopes
that this was about to change. Powerful images of Christians and Muslims
praying together and protesting together in Tahrir Square led to this belief
that democracy would bring with it religious freedom. Unfortunately, reality
has started to hit very soon.
We’ve seen a continuation and an increase in – substantial increase in the
number of attacks and the continuation of those patterns that we had witnessed
before the revolution. The Islamists, now emboldened by the complete lack of
control with the absence of the state security, have now started to take more
drastic attacks against the Copts, whether in terms of attacks on specific
Coptic churches or attacks generally in their TV channels on Copts and inciting
people to act against them.
The government, for its part, has not taken any action to stop this and has not
punished anyone for those attacks. Again, as was mentioned, while the
government – the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – has built that one
church that was burned in Otabia (ph) to the south of Cairo, they have not
punished anyone for that specific attack.
They have also not, until this moment, although the trial has been ongoing,
offered any speedy trial for the people that have conducted the Imbaba attacks.
As was mentioned also, they have continued to hold this pattern of
reconciliation meetings whereby Christians and Muslims are expected to kiss
each other and that would be the end of the affair.
Those reconciliation councils have encouraged again this feeling that the local
Muslim population can then put its demands on its Christian neighbors. The
last element is that ongoing sectarian increase or the intolerance increase
among the general Muslim population. We’ve seen a number of incidents where
Christian girls are required to wear the hijab by government-appointed
headmasters in schools.
It was mentioned by the distinguished member before during the opening remarks
the very disturbing incident of Ayman Nabil Labib, a 17-year-old kid – student
in the school in Egypt and being killed by his very own colleagues and students
in his classroom. This increased level of attacks by the ordinary Muslim
population is the most alarming for the future.
Again, governments can be restrained and pressured. Islamists can be
contained. This level of intolerance is the most drastic element in the whole
process. Those – we also see a continuation in terms of the government
arresting a number of Christians and holding them as a bargaining chip with the
church leadership where the pope and the various bishops are pressured to agree
to the government’s lack of action in exchange for getting their members out of
the Egyptian jails.
This pattern of arresting a number of Christians, we’ve seen it again with the
Maspero incident, with around 25 Christians arrested and that remain in jail as
we speak today. This level has – this increased level has raised the question
for Christians whether Egypt that might be democratic in its future or might
not but whether Egypt will be a place for its Christian minority.
Like their Jewish counterparts years ago, 60, 70 years ago, they are beginning
to realize that their countries might be a place that is not welcoming for them
anymore. Unfortunately, unlike the Jews who had the place to go to, these
people do not. The facts of demography and geography pose limitation on any
attempt to provide safe havens or any other such notions.
The remaining prospect of immigration is problematic in and of itself. While
we’ve seen waves of immigration before of Iraqi Christians and perhaps in the
future Syrian ones, the numbers that are involved in Egypt are much larger.
Simply put, neither the West nor anywhere in the region is better place for 8
to 10 million refugees.
This, again, creates the problem that while the richest elements of the Coptic
community might be willing and capable of leaving the country, the poorest
ones, the ones that face the daily discrimination in their lives, will not find
a place to go and will be living under this what is becoming a very, very cold
and long winter.
For those that are concerned with Egypt’s future, it is also becoming very
clear that elections will not provide a solution to religious freedom. I do
not have a crystal ball but I am willing to predict that the Muslim Brotherhood
will win a majority in the next Egyptian elections. This will change a culture
of impunity into a culture of encouragement, whether by the Muslim Brotherhood
or the more extremist Salafi groups.
The prospects for the Christians in Egypt are becoming darker. Egypt remains a
key ally and friend of the United States and cooperation between the two
countries take place on various issues, most importantly the military.
However, the prospect of a democratic Egypt and one that is based n religious
freedom is important to the U.S. national security and will have its effects on
that cooperation with Egypt on the long-term. I have a number of policy
recommendations or comments in that regard that I perhaps believe might be
better left to the question, or should I?
REP. SMITH: Sure.
MR. TADROS: The first element that we should understand is punishment for
those that have conducted those attacks. There has been a good development in
that regard last week with the military judges announcing for the first time
that there are military personnel that have been arrested and will be tried for
the Maspero attack.
This is the first time that the military actually acknowledges, even
unofficially, that they did something wrong during that attack. An
encouragement for that process to continue and for punishment to be provided
for those responsible is something that the U.S. should work on.
Secondly, we understand now that the Muslim Brotherhood will take a majority in
the next parliament and the Christians will continue to be underrepresented.
We must make sure that underrepresentation in terms of electoral votes does not
result in underrepresentation in terms of the writing of the constitution.
Making sure that the next Egyptian constitution will be one that protects
religious freedom and provides equal citizenship for all of Egypt’s people is
something that we need to definitely work on.
Thirdly, while it’s the wrong electoral timetable that the SCAF has suggested,
provides us with an understanding that they will remain involved in running,
ruling and governing the country. With also the collapse of the police force,
it is likely that the army will continue to provide basic law and order
services in Egypt for some time in the future.
The U.S. military has built a tremendous cooperation with the military and the
U.S. military provides trainings for the Egyptian army on a variety of issues
including trainings on basic law and order which the U.S. has perfected in
conflict zones – in various conflict zones should be something that the U.S.
can help the army deal with those situations better.
Fourthly, while the U.S. Department of State and USAID and MEPI have provided a
variety of funding to strengthen democracy in Egypt, there have been very
disturbing reports of a lot of this money or at least some going to Islamist
parties whose commitment to religious freedom is, to say the least,
Making sure that religious freedom is one of the key elements whereby those
seeking help, those groups and parties seeking help are recognize and judged
upon is an important step.
Lastly, this money that is being provided for strengthening various groups
looking for having a sounder or voice in their country’s future. As a
minority, the Copts are facing numerous challenging – challenges in organizing
Whether any of that money provided by State goes specifically to minority
groups to help them, like other Egyptians, to organize themselves and bring
their voices to building their country’s future is something that needs to be
looked into. Again, thank you very much for organizing this session and
inviting me to testify. Thank you.
REP. SMITH: Mr. Tadros, thank you very much for your testimony, for your
incisive analysis of the current, near-term and long-term situation and your
policy recommendations, which will be most helpful going forward. Dr. Dunne,
if you would proceed?
MICHELE DUNNE: Mr. Chairman, distinguished members, thank you for the honor of
testifying before the commission. As you noted in your opening statement, Mr.
Chairman, it is quite disappointing that the unity between Muslims and
Christians that we saw in Tahrir Square just earlier this year has deteriorated
and sectarian tensions have escalated dangerously in the intervening months.
But the violence is not unfortunately I think particularly surprising because
it’s expected in a post-revolutionary climate that the tensions and conflicts
that were beneath the surface are going to emerge more openly. And the
sectarian tensions – sectarian tensions have been present for decades.
But it was noticeable for the last couple of years that they were – that they
were rising and especially in the months leading up to the January revolution,
the attack on the church in Alexandria at the beginning of January has been
mentioned a number of times. And even leading up to that, there were a number
of anti-Christian riots, particularly by Salafi Muslim groups that have become
much more active in Egypt in the last couple of years.
And I would suggest that the increasing activity of these Salafi groups is one
of the reasons why we have seen these kind of tensions and anti-Christian
violence on the rise.
Now, these clear and disturbing trends that were apparent even before the
revolution make it all the more difficult to understand why the Supreme Council
of the Armed Forces, the SCAF, that was entrusted by Egyptians with the
authority upon the forced resignation for former president Mubarak has failed
to address sectarian violence in any effective manner.
The SCAF’s approach has been almost identical to that of the Mubarak era; that
is, after each sectarian incident, the authorities promise to investigate and
prosecute crimes vigorously and to address the underlying causes of the
incident such as discriminatory laws.
But as soon as public attention moves on, such efforts are either abandoned or
long delayed, leaving the victims with a sense of injustice and the
perpetrators with a sense of impunity and sowing the seeds of further violence.
As has already been noted during this hearing, the investigations of several
serious incidents of large-scale anti-Christian violence leading to the deaths
of almost a hundred people and the injuries of hundreds more are ongoing. And
they might well be inconclusive if we look at what has happened in previous
instances going back even to the al-Kush massacre a decade ago.
What typically happens in these events is that the investigations are botched,
either deliberately or through negligence, and that there is very little, if
any, effective prosecution after the fact. And in the case where military or
government officials are – I’m sorry – accused of complicity or at least
irresponsibility, and also today we’ve discussed this October 9th incident in
The SCAF has staunchly resisted accountability. I would note that the SCAF’s
seeming inability to carry out these investigations and prosecutions in an
expeditious fashion contrast very much with their speed in prosecuting bloggers
and others who are critical of the military.
Also, I will skip through this but the transitional authority supervised by the
SCAF also has been very slow to make the promised legal changes, especially
these laws regarding the building and renovation of places of worship which
over and over again for years and decades now have been at the root at some of
the sectarian tensions.
Now, anti-Christian violence is one of several serious Egyptian issues that the
SCAF has shown itself to be unwilling or unable to deal with. Others include
rising crime, lack of needed police reforms and a deteriorating economy. As a
military organization, the SCAF is not equipped to address such issues. And it
shouldn’t be called upon to do so, particularly for a prolonged period.
That’s why it’s essential that the SCAF agree to a clear, realistic timetable
to turn over not only legislative but also executive authority to elected
civilians. The problem right now is that the SCAF is trying to postpone the
transfer of executive authority until it secures guarantees of its status
And the status the military is seeking is not simply a continuation of the
extensive political influence and economic perquisites it enjoyed during the
Mubarak era but actually more than that. The SCAF has sponsored a document of
super-constitutional principles that would give it the implicit right to
intervene in politics and the explicit right to overrule legislation as well as
freedom from civilian supervision or budgetary oversight.
What this would produce, as Ms. Guirguis noted, is a political system similar
to that of Pakistan where elected civilian institutions are relatively
powerless while unelected and unaccountable military and intelligence services
actually run the country.
And as we know from Pakistan as well as from Egypt’s own history and current
situation, in that kind of a system, military and intelligence organizations
often manipulate sectarian tensions and extremist tendencies within the country
in order to serve narrow agendas.
That would be a very unhappy outcome of the January 25th revolution for all
Egyptians, including Egyptian Christians, and also I would note for the United
States because the United States cannot escape partial responsibility for the
actions of the SCAF due to the tens of billions of dollars in U.S. military
assistance that it has provided over the decade and continues to provide now.
The United States should stand unambiguously on the side of the development of
a real democratic system in which the rights of all citizens including the
right to religious freedom will be protected in a climate of free political
competition and the rule of law. Only the democratic system will difficult
issues such as anti-Christian violence and discrimination be able to be
addressed openly. This will not happen overnight.
Building a strong Egyptian democracy will be the project of many years. But it
would be making a serious mistake to now create large new obstacles to a
process of real democratization by acquiescing to the expansion and
formalization of military control out of a fear that Islamists might gain a
plurality or even a majority in the parliament to be elected over the next few
There are many uncertainties involved when freely elected civilian institutions
have real power. But one thing we know for certain is that military rules –
rulers will fail to protect all citizens and enforce laws without
discrimination. Thank you very much.
REP. SMITH: Dr. Dunne, thank you as well for your excellent testimony. Let me
just begin the questioning. You know, Mr. Tadros, you mentioned in your
testimony that faced with growing threats is no surprise. The Copts are
questioning whether or not there’s a future.
And you said, isolated and ignored by the West, the Copts can only wonder today
whether after 2,000 years the time has come for them to pack their belongings.
If you could – and the other panelists – speak to the issue of isolated and
ignored by the West. Does that include the United States?
Have we been – has there been a dereliction on our part, our duty to promote
democracy and freedom there? Does that include the administration, the Obama
administration, the U.S. House and Senate and the EU and others who at least in
theory support democracy? I do believe that our intentions are right. But
very often our intentions are not matched with deeds and with a seriousness
about what the threat actually is.
And your point that a ruler can be bought or constrained by international
pressure but with the mob there is no constraints, we saw mob rule in history
time and time again played out, and recently in the former Yugoslavia, where
neighbor against neighbor committed unspeakable atrocities because – not just
impunity but a sense of hatred that was otherworldly took over.
So I wonder if you might speak to that issue of isolated and ignored by the
West. How well are we doing? Are we being serious?
MR. TADROS: By isolated and ignored, I was referring to more of a historical
story. The first is that Copts were historically isolated from Western
Christendom by theological differences and were very skeptical about
missionaries and what the West would offer them. The second is their
experience under the British occupation was not a very pleasant one.
Unlike the French and the Levant that favored religious minorities, the British
in Egypt tried to undermine the Copts and exclude them from government service.
Lord Cromer, the famous ruler of Egypt, was no friend in Copts and had very
harsh opinions about them.
This pattern of lack of a friend in the West as compared to the Maronite
community in Lebanon, for example, has made the Copts very skeptical about any
real offers of help or the willingness of any Western power to help them.
As to the specific actions of the United States, as the statement of the
president that he made after the Maspero attack, it’s a very disturbing
statement to say the least. The attitude of equating both the victim and the
victimizer and asking both sides to show restraint is, again, very troubling.
One wonders how Copts should show restraint. Restraint from dying perhaps?
One fails to understand the logic behind such actions.
The president in his Cairo speech mentioned the Copts and the importance of
their plight. But we have not seen any action in that regard. Again, the very
distributing reports of Islamist groups and parties getting money, being aided
by the U.S. State Department, through its policy of not looking at parties’
ideologies but whether they are committed to nonviolence is a very disturbing
thing and undermines the positions of the Copts in the country.
So if I am to judge this administration in terms of its interest and actions, I
would view it completely as a failure. Thank you.
MS. GUIRGUIS: Sir, I’d like to add to that. Just adding my voice, the
statement indeed after the massacre from the White House was extremely
disappointing. The very notion of equating victim with aggressor is an insult
to unspeakable tragedy already.
And I think that there has been a little too much of U.S. concessions to the
U.S. – to the Egyptian security solution for the Coptic problem which ruled the
day during the Mubarak era and which continues. It is sort of this
blackmailing relationship where as long as you stay out of our sensitive files,
including our treatment of religious minorities, you will continue to gain our
cooperation on strategic interests.
And I think that that argument has held way too much sway for way too long.
Egypt has its own interests in cooperating with the United States and they are
compelling reasons. And there is no reason to think that Egypt will run to
China tomorrow and turn away from the United States.
One other comment that I have to make, major disappointment – SCAF delegations
have been coming on a routine basis since February to visit Washington. They
make their rounds in the Pentagon, on the Hill, at the White House. Only days
after the latest Maspero massacre, there was a new SCAF delegation that came in
town, mostly actually to protest the attempts at conditioning foreign
assistance that the House and the Senate were attempting to undertake.
Well, who was assisting them in their lobbying efforts? Well, it’s very
disappointing for us to discover that CENTCOM was a part of that lobbying team.
I myself have spoken to Pentagon officials in the aftermath of the Maspero
massacre and the statements that I heard were incredibly disappointing.
I heard and was told directly that the military acted with restraint, that they
were actually pleased that the outcome, you know, was as it was, that it could
have been much worse and so certainly the military-to-military relationship I
think is really skewing what the larger perspective on all of this should be
and what this entails for U.S. longer term strategic interests, not just in
cooperating with Egypt but in the region as a whole.
REP. SMITH: Dr. Dunne?
MR. DUNNE: I agree that there has been a tendency on the side of the U.S.
administration to accept the SCAF’s – the SCAF’s narrative which is that, you
know, we’re just simple military men, we’re doing our best, it’s a difficult
situation. And remember, it’s us or the Islamists. That’s your choice.
And that of course is the – you know, is the right out of the old Mubarak
playbook. I think though that the actions of the SCAF recently, this October
9th Maspero incident and their absolute, you know, failure to accept
accountability for that, the super-constitutional document that I mentioned,
the harassment and persecution of nongovernmental organizations especially
those receiving assistance from the United States have really begun to make
people here wake up a little bit to what the SCAF’s real intentions might be.
So I hope we will not continue to fall victim to this, you know, binary choice.
It’s either authoritarianism with all the ugliness that comes with that or
REP. SMITH: In questioning Michael Posner, the assistant secretary for
democracy, human rights and labor, I asked him a series of questions about
Michele Clark’s testimony at our previous hearing.
And he did indicate that he would take it back and hopefully robustly and very
aggressively get the department to investigate forced marriages of Coptic
Christian women and obviously the abductions that precede the forced marriage.
Were you satisfied with his answers? Any of you –any of you want to comment on
MR. TADROS: On the specific issue, it’s disturbing that those allegations have
been there for a number of years. They’ve been reported without comments in
the various State Department-issued religious freedom reports. So it’s a bit
surprising that if those have been there why didn’t anyone investigate them
The more distributing elements perhaps in the narrative that is accepted from
SCAF is this issue that the military and the Egyptian government will pass a
new law governing the houses of worship. I’m not sure if people at State have
read that law or not. But I have and it in no way supports religious freedom.
The law requires that an area of a minimum of 500 meters be available between
any other religious building or mosque.
I don’t know if anyone has visited Cairo, but I doubt there is any 500 meters
between any two mosques in Cairo. So the idea that this law will somehow help
Christians, make it easier for them to build churches is debatable to say the
REP. SMITH: Any other witnesses like to respond?
MS. GUIRGUIS: No, I just – I do agree with that. I don’t think it’s a
solution at all. I think the bottom line is that there continues to exist no
political will to address the root causes of this problem.
I think if the sectarian problem of Egypt – I think the solutions are there.
everybody knows them. We’ve been talking about them and offering them for
years now. They’ve been on the books collecting dust in the Egyptian
parliament for years now.
But I think if you deprive any authoritarian government of that card, of the
card to manipulate society in that way, to be able to use the
divide-and-conquer card, to be able to sew instability and create these
explosive events and justify their own existence, I think they would be gone.
And that’s the most powerful – in my view, one of the most powerful sort of
evidentiary proofs there is of the intentions of the SCAF and what the SCAF
REP. SMTH: Other – yes, Dr. Dunne?
MS. DUNNE: I have not seen Ms. Clark’s testimony and I don’t know anything
about the specific cases that she raised there. I would say that having looked
into some of these cases in the past – and I would say this is sometime in the
past. This is, you know, 10 years ago or so when I was at the U.S. embassy in
What I found in some of these cases where I was able to find out what happened
was that a member of one religious community had eloped with a member of
another religious community. And this gets to the problem that religious
conversion and intermarriage are completely unacceptable. And I believe
they’re unacceptable to both communities, to both the Muslim and the Christian
communities in Egypt. It is true that certainly Egyptian law discriminates in
favor of Muslim in this case, that conversion to Islam is permitted and from
Islam not so much.
But I would say on the level of society, there is a deep issue here and Dina
was just alluding to it, that somehow cannot be addressed openly in a situation
in which you have authoritarian governments that are manipulating these
tensions for political advantage.
REP. SMITH: Is there anything else any of you would like to add before we
conclude this hearing?
MR. TADROS: If I can add, going back to the assistant secretary’s statement
where he writes on page six: I want to make clear that most of these clashes
have involved both Copts and Muslims and members of both communities have been
the perpetrators and victims of the violence.
I’m not sure if State Department has seen any evidence of Copts attacking
Muslims. At least I am not aware of any such incident. So it’s a very
interesting statement to put, to say the least.
REP. SMITH: Anything further? Thank you so much for your testimony. This
will be part of an ongoing series of hearings I’ve planned in my subcommittee.
It’s called “Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights,” sometime in probably
January or February to hold another hearing. And it’s my understanding that
the Lantos commission for human rights might be planning one as well. While I
don’t chair it, Frank Wolf does. I am a member of that and certainly will be
And I think now more than ever we need to bring maximum scrutiny and I hope for
some very wise interventions on the part of the U.S. government and our
European Union friends and everyone else who is concerned about religious
persecution as well as democracy and good governance because there is a window
of opportunity, it seems to me, and a window that is closing so fast and
things, as you pointed out, Mr. Tadros, that could get – you know, it won’t
just be impunity.
It will be – it’ll encourage mob action. And in some cases, they may already
be there. so I – and for the record, when a delegation from Egypt came through
and visited members of the House foreign affairs committee, I did join in
meeting with them and had with me a catalog of human rights abuses directed
against Coptic Christians for which I got – you know, that’s been fixed and
that’s OK, we’re working on that, always some kind of that’s always in the
And I certainly was not convinced. And so I hope the wool is not being pulled
over the eyes of the Congress or the administration. With that, the hearing is