Commission on Security & Cooperation in Europe: U.S. Helsinki Commission
Escalating Violence Against Coptic Women and Girls: Will the New Egypt Be More
Dangerous Than the Old?
Committee Members Present:
Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ)
Representative Robert Aderholt (R-AL)
Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University
Katrina Lantos Swett,
United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
The Transatlantic Legislative Group on Counterterrorism
The Hearing Was Held From 2:00 To 4:00 in 210 Cannon House Office Building,
Washington, D.C., Representative Christopher Smith (R-NJ), CSCE, Moderating
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
Federal News Service
REPRESENTATIVE CHRISTOPHER SMITH (R-NJ): The commission will come to order.
And good afternoon and welcome to our hearing on the escalating violence facing
Coptic women and girls in Egypt following the Arab Spring, including the
outrageous crime of abduction, forced conversion and which the Egyptian
government, both old and new, is doing all too little about, if anything at
all. It has now been almost a year-and-a-half since the revolution began in
Egypt and Egypt is still in the foundry fires of transition, hopefully into a
free and democratic state. The Egyptians have elected a parliament but the
Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF, dissolved it with the support of
the constitutional court.
As president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood was elected and installed
but not before the SCAF, who seemed to be mostly secularists, curtailed
presidential power over the military and given the military legislative powers.
The constituent panel, which was drawn from the now-dissolved parliament and
has been boycotted by the Coptic Christians, began drafting work on Egypt’s new
constitution. Yet it may be disbanded any day by a pending court decision.
Order seems to hang by a thread and tensions run extremely high. Though Egypt
has avoided civil war, the revolution and ongoing unrest and social conflict
have already left many casualties in the Coptic community which makes up almost
8 percent of Egypt’s population. Sadly, there are groups that would use the
ancient Christian Coptic community as a way to build unity around a common
The SCAF was guilty of this on October 9th, 2011, when the military fired on a
peaceful group of Coptic Christians in Maspero and ran them over with military
vehicles while calling through the national news service for honorable citizens
to defend the army against attack. That is, the SCAF openly invited violence
against the Coptic community. Twenty-seven people were killed and more than
300 injured. Almost all of them were Copts. The military claimed that one
soldier was killed but it refuses to release his name. Almost a year later,
protestors are on trial for the incident and three soldiers have been charged
with only misdemeanors.
As we will hear today from Michele Clark and her new report on the
disappearance, forced marriages and forced conversions of Coptic women, the
vulnerability and abduction of Coptic Christians is not new. Going back to the
1970s, there were many accounts of Coptic women and girls being abducted by
Muslims, forcibly conducted and forcibly married. There are many such reports,
no doubt. Some of them were of women choosing to elope, marry across religious
lines and cut off relations with their family. But the claim of the Egyptian
government that this is the story of every one of the thousands of disappeared
women and girls absolutely defies the evidence. The women and girls are found
– who are found claim to have been drugged and kidnapped or kidnapped with
violence. They often report human rights abuses including forced conversion,
rape, forced marriages, beatings and domestic servitude.
Alarmingly, since the revolution, cases of – since the revolution, cases of
reported disappearance have increased while recovery of the women and girls
have decreased. Those women who are found and returned to their families face
many obstacles including government refusals to change their identity cards to
reflect their return to their Christian faith, which seems to sanction forced
conversions. Nor are we aware of any case before or after the revolution in
which an abductor has been prosecuted.
President Morsi in his first speech as president envisioned Egypt as being for
Muslims and Christians. This must mean true justice for Copts. Copts must be
given equal protection under the law. Secretary Clinton was in Egypt over the
weekend facing protestors with signs that said, quote, “Obama, don’t send your
dollars to jihadists.” Congress sent the same message with the 2012
Consolidated Appropriations Act which required the secretary to certify that
Egypt was making improvements in religious freedom before we released the $1.3
billion in aid.
An unnamed senior State Department official reported to Reuters that on the
basis of American national security interests, she – meaning Secretary Clinton
– will waive the legislative conditions related to Egypt’s democratic
transition, allowing for the continued flow of foreign military financing to
Egypt. “The move reflects,” the quote goes on to say from the unnamed
official, “the move reflects our overarching goal to maintain our strategic
partnership with an Egypt made stronger and more stable by a successful
transition to democracy.”
This is democracy? My response is simply this. Unless Coptic women and girls
are protected and free to live their lives without fear of abduction, forced
conversion and other gross abuses of their human rights, Egypt will not be
strong, will not be stable or a successful democracy.
I’d like to begin now with our first witness. We have – and we thank her for
being here today – Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, who is an expert on human rights.
She received a B.A. in political science from Yale, her J.D. from the
University of California Hastings College of Law and her Ph.D. in history from
the University of Southern Denmark. She has worked extensively with the U.S.
Congress to advocate for human rights, particularly while serving as deputy
counsel to the criminal justice subcommittee.
She teaches human rights and American foreign policy at Tufts University,
serves as the president and CEO of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and
Justice – named after her very distinguished father, who we all deeply miss –
and was recently elected as chair of the U.S. Commission for International
Religious Freedom. Dr. Lantos Swett, welcome, and please proceed as you would
KATRINA LANTOS SWETT: Thank you so much, Mr. Chairman. And I want to say
before I go into my prepared remarks that you are one of the colleagues my
father admired most. Literally one can’t number the times that the two of you
were in the trenches side by side battling on behalf of human rights for people
in every corner of the world.
And my father would often cite you to me and to others as an example of the way
in which people who might be in very different places on some political issues
could come together and have really no daylight between them on the most
fundamental issues of human dignity and human rights. And so it’s a real
privilege and an honor for me to be here before you today. And thank you for
the excellent work that you’re doing.
My testimony is going to focus more broadly on the challenges and threats to
the Coptic community in Egypt and I know subsequently you’ll be getting some
very powerful testimony more specifically on the issue of abduction.
Thank you for the opportunity to testify today before the Helsinki Commission
on the topic of “Escalating Violence Against Coptic Women and Girls: Will the
New Egypt be More Dangerous Than the Old?” I have been asked today to give an
overview about the general status of and conditions for religious freedom in
Egypt, especially for Coptic Christians, and I request that my statement be
entered into the record.
REP. SMITH: Without objection, so ordered.
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Since its inception nearly 15 years ago, USCIRF has been
deeply engaged on Egypt and for good reason. For our entire existence, and
indeed, prior to our creation, religious freedom conditions, including those of
Egypt's Coptic population, have been extremely problematic. This situation
continues into the present and with the election of Mohammed Morsi, the first
freely elected president of Egypt, on June 30th. The Egyptian transitional
government continues to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing and
egregious violations of freedom of religious freedom.
Discriminatory and repressive laws and policies remain that restrict freedom of
thought, conscience and religion or belief. Given these concerns, and for the
second year in a row, USCIRF recommended in its 2012 annual report, which I
have here, by the way, and I’d be delighted to leave with you for the
commission – USCIRF recommended that Egypt be designated a country of
particular concern, or CPC, under the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act.
I also request that USCIRF's 2012 annual report chapter on Egypt be entered
into the record.
REP. SMITH: Without objection.
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Thank you. From the evidence we have seen, the biggest
problem faced by the Copts, who comprise 10 to 15 percent of Egypt's 80 million
people, continues to be one of impunity. Simply stated, for decades, Egypt's
government has fostered a climate conducive to acts of violence against Copts
and members of other minority communities. It has done so in at least two ways.
First, Cairo's long history of restrictive laws and policies – from blasphemy
codes to an emergency law to across-the-board discrimination– has drawn
unwelcome attention to religious minorities, further marginalizing them and
leading to violent words and deeds launched by intolerant individuals as well
as by radical religious groups.
Second, the government's continued failure to protect innocent people from
these attacks and to convict those responsible has served to encourage further
assaults. For years, President Mubarak's government tolerated widespread
discrimination against religious minorities and disfavored religious groups,
from dissident Sunni and Shia Muslims to Baha’is, as well as Copts and other
Christians, while allowing state-controlled media and state-funded mosques to
deliver incendiary messages against them. The consequences of the climate of
impunity are especially apparent in Upper Egypt.
After Mubarak's departure, a breakdown in security and a rise in sectarian
violence made 2011 one of the worst years for Copts and other minorities. Last
year alone, violent sectarian attacks killed approximately 100 people,
surpassing the death toll of the previous 10 years combined.
As during the Mubarak regime, Copts were the primary target, and most of the
perpetrators still have not been brought to justice. Perpetrators have not
been convicted or alleged perpetrators have been detained for short periods,
but eventually released without charge. While USCIRF's 2012 annual report
chapter on Egypt includes a list of some of the most tragic acts of violence
committed against the Coptic Orthodox community, I do want to note the
following significant incident, which you also referred to.
Last October, Egypt's state media falsely accused Copts of attacking the
military when Muslim and Christian protestors marched toward the state
television station. Following the state media's call on civilians to counter
this imaginary threat, on October 9th, in downtown Cairo, armed men attacked
peaceful demonstrators, killing at least 26 of them, most of them Copts, while
injuring over 300 more.
Responding to the violence, Egypt's military used live ammunition and also
deployed armored vehicles that deliberately crushed and killed at least 12
protestors. In addition, reports in recent years support claims that there
were cases of Muslim men forcing Coptic Christian women to convert to Islam.
The State Department has asserted that such cases are often disputed and
include, quote, "inflammatory allegations and categorical denials of kidnapping
and rape." For example, there were credible cases in which Coptic girls did
voluntarily convert to Islam to marry Muslim men, and subsequently, when the
relationship failed, sought to return to Christianity, as is their right under
international law. Nevertheless, during the reporting period, experts and
human rights groups have found that there were also credible cases where Coptic
Christian women were lured deceptively into marriages with Muslim men and
forced to convert to Islam. According to these reports, if a woman returns or
escapes from the marriage and wants to convert back to Christianity, she faces
the same legal hurdles in changing her religious affiliation on official
identity documents as discussed.
In recent years, in response to sectarian violence, Egyptian authorities have
conducted, quote, “reconciliation sessions” between Muslims and Christians as a
way of easing tensions and resolving disputes. In some cases, authorities
compelled victims to abandon their claims to any legal remedy. USCIRF has
stated that reconciliation efforts should not be used to undermine enforcing
the law and punishing perpetrators for wrongdoing.
In recent years, the State Department concluded that reconciliation sessions
not only, quote, "prevented the prosecution of perpetrators of crimes against
Copts and precluded their recourse to the judicial system for restitution,” but
also "contributed to a climate of impunity that encouraged further assaults, “
and how ironic it is that something so benignly termed as a reconciliation
process should be used actually to strip people of their legal rights and a
means of vindicating those rights.
For all Christian groups, government permission is required to build a new
church or repair an existing one, and the approval process for church
construction is time-consuming and inflexible. Former President Mubarak had
the authority to approve applications for new construction of churches.
Although most of these applications were submitted more than five years ago,
the majority have not received a response. Even some permits that have been
approved cannot, in fact, be acted upon because of interference by the state
security services at both the local and national levels.
In 2005, former President Mubarak devolved authority to approve the renovation
and reconstruction of churches from the president to the country's governors.
Several years later, some churches continue to face delays in the issuance of
permits. Even in cases where approval to build or maintain churches has been
granted, many Christians complain that local security services have prevented
construction or repair, in some cases for many years.
In addition, local security services have been accused of being complicit in
inciting violence against some churches undergoing routine maintenance or
repair. In recent years, the government repeatedly has pledged, most recently
in October of 2011, to adopt a new law that would apply to all places of
In June, after consulting with religious leaders and other experts, the SCAF
released publicly a draft version of the law. The draft was criticized widely
by Muslims, Christians and Egyptian human rights groups. While a subsequent
version has not been made public, some reports have indicated that the revised
draft law covers only churches and not other places of worship.
Now, this is not to say there has been no progress since the end of the Mubarak
regime. To be sure, we have seen some hopeful developments. Last year, the
Grand Sheikh at al-Azhar began several initiatives expressing support for some
aspects of freedom of religion or belief. In May of last year, the government
began to reopen more than 50 churches that had been closed, in some cases for
Last July, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that reconverts to
Christianity could obtain new national identity documents indicating their
Christianity but not their former Muslim faith. And following the October
violence, the transitional government took steps to reduce discrimination in
Egypt's penal code.
Yet despite this progress, the bottom line is this: Copts need to be
protected, Copts aren't being protected and Copts must be protected, along with
every other member of Egyptian society, from attacks on their right to order
their lives and practice their beliefs in dignity and peace.
As long as Copts and other religious minorities aren't being sufficiently
protected, USCIRF will continue to spotlight the problem and recommend that the
U.S. government take strong action in support of religious freedom. Our
recommendations to the United States government are as follows.
First, the United States should press Egypt to improve religious freedom
conditions, by repealing discriminatory decrees against religious minorities,
removing religion from official identity documents, abolishing the blasphemy
codes and passing a unified law for the construction and repair of places of
Second, the United States should urge Egypt's government to prosecute
government-funded clerics, government officials or any other individuals who
incite violence, while disciplining or dismissing government-funded clerics who
preach intolerance and hatred.
Third, the United States should increase pressure on Egypt to bring to justice
those who have committed violence against fellow Egyptians on account of their
Fourth, the U.S. Congress should require the departments of State and Defense
to report every 90 days on the Egyptian government's progress pertaining to
religious freedom and related rights.
Fifth, until genuine progress occurs, USCIRF renews its call for the United
States to designate Egypt a country of particular concern as one of the world's
most serious religious freedom abusers.
Sixth, if Egypt demonstrates a commitment to progress on freedom of religion
and related rights, the United States should ensure that a portion of its
military aid to Egypt is used to help Egypt's police implement a plan to
enhance protection for religious minorities, their places of worship and places
where they congregate.
And finally, Washington should press Cairo to ensure that a new constitution
has robust protections for the right to freedom of religion or belief
consistent with international human rights law, including recognizing the
universal right to the freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief
for every individual and every religious or belief community. Recognizing that
each person’s freedom to hold and to manifest any religion or belief or to not
hold any religious belief should not be limited aside from the narrow
exceptions delineated in international law.
Three, affirming that the right to freedom of religion or belief includes the
right to have, adopt or change one’s religion or belief without coercion and to
manifest it publicly as well as to persuade others to change their beliefs or
Ensuring that the rights and benefits of citizenship are not limited to
individuals belong to particular religious communities and ensuring that all
persons are equal before the law and are entitled to the equal protection of
law regardless of religion or belief and that guaranteeing all persons equal
and effective protection against discrimination on religious grounds.
Today, as Egypt confronts the rigors of democratic transition, will it uphold
the rights of Copts and other religious minorities? The world is watching, the
Helsinki Commission is watching and USCIRF is watching, too. Thank you again
for this opportunity to testify.
REP. SMITH: Dr. Lantos Swett, thank you so very much for your very eloquent
testimony and the large number of recommendations, insights that you and the
commission have provided and have done so for since the inception of the
commission, so thank you for it, especially as its chair, for taking your
I do want to note we’ve been joined by Robert Aderholt – Commission Aderholt –
and I think it’s worth nothing and celebrating that at the most recent OSCE
parliamentary assembly, Mr. Aderholt was elected vice president of the OSCE PA.
So congratulations to you.
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Congratulations. Thank you so much.
REP. SMITH: And if I could just ask a couple of quick questions?
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Yes, of course.
REP. SMITH: I know you’re on a tight – just briefly about the – one of your
recommendations is that the – Egypt ought to be designated as a country of
particular concern. By way of historical reminder, Congressman Frank Wolf’s
bill, the International Religious Freedom Act, which was vigorously opposed by
the State Department – John Shattuck, who was then the assistant secretary for
democracy, labor and human rights, testified before my committee repeatedly
against the bill.
But one of the geniuses of that legislation was that it established this
independent voice to speak truth to power without worrying about the problems
that are associated when you talk to dictatorships or authoritarian regimes
which often muzzles our voice as a country, especially on human rights issues,
and religious freedom being at the top of that list. You’re kind of like the
GAO of –
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Exactly
REP. SMITH: – religious freedom.
DR. LANTOS SWETT: I like that description.
REP. SMITH: And you do a wonderful job.
DR. LANTOS SWETT: But we don’t go on wild trips to Las Vegas, I’m happy to
REP. SMITH: But you know, with regards to CPC, if you could maybe elaborate a
bit on the frustration that the commission has had with getting the
administration to so designate – it’s a two-step – first designate based on
what the record is and then decide what if, if any, of the 18 prescribed
remedies or penalties that can be meted out to a country – in this case Egypt –
might be used. China has been on that list.
Unfortunately, we rarely use any of those sanctions that are included. But
it’s important to first get the designation and then take the second step.
What do we do with that designation?
Secondly, if I could ask you with regards to – you know, you talked about the
reconciliation sessions in your testimony. And while they sound benign and
look like, you know, there’s something good and wholesome about it, they also
carry with it a very dangerous aspect where people who have created heinous
crimes under pressure of a reconciliation session might be allowed to get away
with it, whether it be rape or assault. And so, what kind of actions are often
brought to these reconciliation sessions.
And thirdly, if you could, I mentioned in my opening about how hard we worked –
Mr. Aderholt, Mr. Wolf, Trent Franks, Kay Granger, who was the key person as
chairwoman of the foreign ops appropriations committee – to put very specific
language into the foreign ops bill for this year on religious freedom. It was
opposed by the administration. As a matter of fact, it was very vigorously
opposed. And yet, now it’s been waived, just shunted aside as if religious
freedom doesn’t matter.
And when statements are made about strategic partnership with Egypt to make it
stronger as a democracy, religious freedom is the first human right. It’s at
the core of it. if we won’t insist upon it, who will? So if you can speak to
that very briefly.
And then finally, for years when President Mubarak would come here, I and
others would meet with him and I would bring up two issues every time – the
gross abuse of his media to attack Israel and use caricatures and very, very
horrible statements about – that were anti-Semitic, and the second was the
attack on the Coptic Christian community and church.
But as you point out, there has been a breakdown in security and a rise of
sectarian violence that makes 2011 one of the worst years for Copts and other
minorities. What would you recommend we do because, you know, we would get a
pushback from Mubarak. He would say, talk to Boutros-Ghali where, who was
always with him when these issues would come up. And we would give names. We
would raise specific instances of violence against Coptic Christians, burning
of churches and the like. But he at least was responsive to some. What kind
of response are we getting? What would be your recommendation as to with the
SCAF especially and with the president? Are we insisting on it with this
administration? Are they insisting on religious freedom and protection of
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Well, thank you for those excellent questions and I’ll try
to address each of them in turn. First, as it relates to the CPC designation,
we share your frustration. It was a stroke of genius, I believe, that USCIRF
was created as an independent body because we have, if you will, the luxury of
being able to have a single-minded focus on our mission which is the
advancement and promotion of international religious freedom.
And as such, you know, frankly we believe that we see this issue with greater
clarity. The State Department is always in the process of weighing various
interests. And we understand that that’s a necessity given the magnitude of
the issues that they have to deal with. And yet, it is our firm conviction
that, as you have said so often and so eloquently, religious freedom is a
And the implications – the broader implications for a society that fails to
provide an environment of robust protection for tolerance, pluralism and
religious freedom are very grave. The evidence is now out there and it’s
overwhelming that the positive correlations for societies that do provide this
kind of religious freedom protection are phenomenal. They are more stable.
They are more prosperous.
They have – the women in those societies have infinitely higher status,
infinitely better circumstances. They are more democratic. And of course,
they are more peaceful. And so, this is really not a sidebar issue. I would
also say that, as you know, Mr. Chairman, the conduct of a country needs to be
egregious and persistent in order to qualify for that CPC designation. And we
approach our monitoring function at USCIRF always in a sort of strictly factual
way. You know, it’s nothing but the facts, ma’am.
We go in there looking at what are the facts on the ground, what are the actual
circumstances and then we make our recommendations based on that. And so, you
know, all I can say is that we will continue to forcefully advocate with the
State Department that they take that next step vis-à-vis Egypt. The facts, we
believe, warrant it. The circumstances warrant it. And I think the evidence
is the country doesn’t want to be designated as a CPC with good reason.
And so, you know, when a country is obviously against their wishes given this
badge of certainly concern, of particular concern, it can serve as a motivation
for them to actually get serious about addressing the issues. And as you point
out, CPC designation is not an automatic trigger for any particular set of
consequences. So that issue can be viewed sort of as part of a separate
discussion, what are the appropriate sanctions. But we strongly feel that the
CPC designation is warranted.
We feel that it is an important tool to hold up for the world to see what the
practices are of a country and it can be a tool for, you know, finally forcing
a country to get serious about addressing some of these issues. You brought up
the issue of the reconciliation sessions.
You know, we have had now over the last several decades societies in which a
truth and reconciliation process has played an enormously valuable role in
trying to help societies that were riven and torn apart in the most profound
ways by war, by apartheid, by, you know, decades of sort of saturated abuse in
the society to find a way to move beyond that. And so, there are obviously
circumstances in which that kind of a process is very, very appropriate. The
situation I think we have in Egypt that is of concern is that you are really
sort of seeing these reconciliation processes in some instances used not to try
and sort of heal the deep societal-wide wounds but to bully victims into
abandoning their pursuit of justice for very specific ills done against them by
very specific perpetrators.
And that’s clearly a perversion and an abuse of a process and sort of putting a
very attractive and appealing name on a process which we feel feeds into the
culture of impunity. As you know, in my remarks I address that that’s sort of
the overarching problem, if we want to put a big tag on what we feel lies at
the heart of religious freedom in Egypt. It’s this impunity, this culture of
impunity created by government policies and by government lack of vindication
of the rights of their citizens.
And so in that context, this reconciliation process is another piece of that
impunity problem. You know, you mention the specific language that you had
battled so hard to get into the foreign operations bill. And I don’t, you
know, know that I have huge insight to bring to bear on that. I do know that
it is important from the perspective of USCIRF that whether it’s the president,
whether it’s the State Department, we want to see more than inconsequential lip
service to the issues of religious freedom.
You know, nobody is going to stand up and speak out against religious freedom.
And we can all go to the record and find, you know, well-meaning and moving
words spoken. But there needs to be more than that. And there needs to be a
prioritization of religious freedom. I don’t need to tell you, you know better
than I do, that religious freedom is really implicated in some of our nation’s
greatest challenges right now, including some of the national security threats
that we face.
Again, societies where robust religious freedom is a reality tend not to be
societies where the sort of violent religious extremism takes root that can
then visit our shores in the form of terrorism and can implicate our national
security interests around the globe. So it’s not a minor issue. It’s not a
nice sidebar topic that makes us all feel good and we can kind of, you know,
smile and say nice words. This goes to the heart not only of American values
but of American security in the world. And so in that sense, you know, we
would obviously be advocating for our State Department and this administration
and the Congress to ensure that religious freedom is central to the way we
approach our dealings with foreign countries.
And finally, you know, it’s interesting the last issue you brought up were your
meetings with Mubarak and how you would bring up two issues – the treatment of
the Copts and the use of official media to spew out, you know, vitriolic and
vile anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial.
Just earlier today – and I’m now going to momentarily put on a different hat.
As you mentioned, I’m the president of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights
and Justice. And one of our first acts after establishing the foundation
following my father’s passing was the creation of the Lantos Archives on
Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Denial, a collaborative project that we do with the
Middle East Media Research Institute.
And that archive documents on an annual basis the degree to which so much of
the media, the preaching, the teaching, the public discourse in much of the
Arabic world, the Muslim world, the Farsi-speaking world is saturated with a
degree of overt and vitriolic and hateful anti-Semitism that I really think
would make most people’s hair stand on end if they were to be exposed to it.
and part of what we try to do through the archives is bridge the language gap
because when these examples take place in a language not easily understood, you
know, it’s easy for it to pass under the radar screen.
And so, one of the goals of the Lantos Archives is bridge that language gap,
bring to the attention of policymakers like you, the media, educators, thought
leaders what’s really going on because we do believe that shining a bright
light on that is at least one step that we can take. But again, the quality of
a culture – what is the language that is accepted, that is put forward, that is
out there, what are the sorts of slurs against religious communities, against
the Copts, against the Jews that are accepted as just part of the normal
Unless we change the fundamental nature of what is acceptable in these
countries around the world, we cannot get at some of the deep, deep,
intransigent problems that need to be solved for, you know, the peace and
stability of the whole world. And so, I commend you for raising these issues.
I think we need to be more vigilant as ever as we see Egypt and other countries
attempting to make a transition to more democratic rule.
Democracy can have a big hole in the heart if it is not accompanied by
rigorous, vigorous, constitutional protections for the sorts of fundamental
human rights that we take so for granted in this country. And in that regard,
I’ll also mention that another initiative that USCIRF has been involved with is
a study of constitutional reform processes and trying to, you know, provide
some help and some insight to many of the countries in the Middle East that are
now in the process of drafting new constitutions.
And we know that those constitutions won’t look exactly like ours, although
unlike some people in public life I think our Constitution is not a bad example
to hold up around the world. It’s done a pretty good job for this great
country for more than 200 years. But democracy must be accompanied by strong
and honored constitutional protections for fundamental rights. Otherwise,
democracy can easily degenerate into the
most dangerous sort of mobocracy.
REP. SMITH: Dr. Lantos Swett, thank you so very much. I yield to the good
friend and colleague, Commissioner Aderholt.
REPRESENTATIVE ROBERT ADERHOLT (R-AL): Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And I’m going
to have to slip out shortly. But I do have some questions I’d like to submit.
I’d like unanimous consent to submit those for the record. Thank you for being
here. Thank you for your testimony.
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Thank you.
REP. ADERHOLT: This issue regarding Coptics has been an issue that I’ve
followed for over a decade now. One thing that I do want to – I would like to
get your opinion on and just your thoughts – when it comes to the severity of
the issue that we’re here discussing today, what do you think are some of the
key issues or perceptions that – so many in the international community from
understanding really what the problem really is and why they have not acted
more strongly on the issue?
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Specifically on the issue of religious freedom or –
REP. ADERHOLT: Or – and minority women, but just in general.
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Well, you know, I think that for many years there was sort
of this notion that that world of religious belief and religious freedom
related to kind of an older period in human history and that as we move forward
into the modern world, some of those old, old notions of what’s important fall
away. And I think if recent world events have shown us anything, they have
shown us how untrue that is.
Societies that protect these fundamental rights of belief and conscience – and
sometimes those take the form of religious beliefs but not always – sometimes
that takes the form of the freedom not to believe. Societies that are vigorous
in protecting people’s ability to express their transcendent views, their views
about that which is transcendent in life, in fact are the societies that are
the best equipped to deal with the many challenges that we face.
But I do think that you’re right. There has been a certain resistance to
embracing the advocacy of these issues other than in sort of a sidebar
rhetorical sense. But as I say, you know, I’m really very encouraged by some
of the new, you know, very concrete research and social science evidence that
is coming forward to show the correlation and the interrelation between
protecting some of these most fundamental rights and building successful,
prosperous, stable, tolerant societies.
And so, you know, we take some comfort from that and hope that as, in a way,
science and faith and practice and tradition come together, there will be a
more vigorous community out there ready to stand up in defense of these most
fundamental rights. They cannot be ignored. They cannot be set aside. They
cannot be dismissed as sort of relics of another era. They are at the heart of
how we build a decent and a safe world going forward. And you know, that is
certainly central to the mission of USCIRF and something that we’re very
REP. ADERHOLT: Thank you. And you know, just going back to the fact that a
lot of people I think are not even sure exactly – it’s not really focused on
some of the human rights issue about what the Coptics are all about and how
some of the issues that they have to deal with. So again, I apologize for
having to slip out. But like I said, I do have some questions for the record I
would like to submit. So thank you very much.
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Thank you for your question.
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much, Commissioner Aderholt. And thank you, Dr.
Lantos Swett, for your testimony, your insights and recommendations. And thank
DR. LANTOS SWETT: Thank you for having me and thank you for holding this very
REP. SMITH: I’d like to now welcome our second panel to the witness table,
beginning first with Michele Clark, an adjunct professor at the George
Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs. She’s an
internationally renowned expert on human trafficking. Ms. Clark was appointed
director of the Anti-Trafficking Assistance Unit at the OSCE in 2005 and
developed the groundbreaking publication “Working Papers on Combatting
Trafficking in the OSCE Region.”
She has received multiple awards and fellowships in recognition of her
remarkable anti-trafficking work. And just several months ago was here before
this commission with some groundbreaking testimony, insights into the abduction
of Coptic girls in Egypt, really laid out a challenge for us and especially for
the executive branch. And I look forward to hearing what she has found since
and she will explain that of course in her testimony.
We’ll then hear from Dr. Phares – Walid Phares – who is a professor at the
National Defense University and he serves as an advisor to the Anti-Terrorism
Caucus and co-secretary general for the Transatlantic Legislative Group on
Counterterrorism. Now, Dr. Phares frequently testifies before the U.S.
Congress, the European Parliament and the United Nations Security Council on
matters pertaining to international security. In addition, he provides
expertise for a variety of domestic and international media sources and has
published several books, including his most recent, “The Coming Revolution:
Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East.”
Then, our next witness, and we will just call her Anne, is a victim and needs
to maintain anonymity for the safety of her family, who are still in Egypt.
She is a Coptic Christian woman but recently obtained asylum here in the United
States based on an attempted abduction that she endured while in Egypt. I
would ask that each of your respect her privacy and not attempt to photograph
her, even though she is behind us. We do have Capitol Police on hand to ensure
that there are no disturbances. Her words will be translated by Carolyn Doss,
who has been here before. And I thank her for that translation. If we could
go first to Michele Clark and then to Dr. Phares?
MICHELE CLARK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. It’s a real honor to be invited to
testify once more. Thank you. It’s an honor to be invited to testify once
more on this most important issue of the disappearances, forced conversions and
forced marriages of Coptic women and girls. I’d like to express my thanks to
the commission for holding this hearing and for launching our new report. It’s
a real honor that you’ve accorded us.
I would also like to express my appreciation and my thanks to Dr. John Eibner
of Christian Solidarity International for championing this issue and sponsoring
the research and writing of the report. I would also like to express my thanks
to my coauthor, Nadia Ghaly, for her invaluable collaboration. She’s not able
to be with us today. I have submitted written testimony along with the newly
released report and would like these to be included in the permanent record of
REP. SMITH: Without objection, your full statement and that of Dr. Walid and
all statements will be made a part of the record.
MS. CLARK: Thank you. My introductory remarks will be brief, highlighting the
principle conclusions and recommendations. But I’d also like to address some
of the challenges raised by individuals and organizations who would seek to
downplay the seriousness of the issue. First, a little bit of context and then
the challenges. This report builds upon our previous work from 2009 in which
we documented the disappearances of Coptic women and girl. Many were lured
into false relationships through fraudulent means or forcible abductions.
These women were coerced into converting to Islam and married to their
abductors against their wills. Our report was based on interviews with women
who had been abducted, the lawyers who represented them and family members of
women who had not yet returned.
But the report was greeted with some mixed response. We’re grateful to you and
to this commission, which one year ago, as you mentioned, sponsored a hearing
on this important topic to raise the visibility of violence against the Coptic
women in Egypt. Other U.S. government bodies were not so receptive. In 2010,
the Office to Combat and Monitor Trafficking in Persons referenced our study in
their annual report although referring to our findings as allegations.
Findings of our current report were not referenced in the 2012 TIP report. The
2010 Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report also refers
to our work, once again using the word allegation.
There have been some interesting traction in other areas. And for the first
time, we’re beginning to see stories in the mainstream media. In 2010, just
before the Christmas holidays, the BBC aired a documentary film on attacks
against Christian minorities in Europe, featuring a family whose daughter had
been abducted. They based their research in large part on our first report. In
July 2011, the New York Review of Books featured and article by journalist and
writer Yasmin el-Rashdi referencing the disappearance of Coptic girls. And in
October 2011, the European Parliament issued a statement condemning violence
against the Copts in Egypt and expressed particular concern about girls who
have been kidnapped and forced to convert. So we’re seeing a little bit of – a
little bit of positive response.
So why doesn’t the issue have more traction? Mr. Aderholt asked a very
important question. I’d like to talk about this just a little bit before I get
into the finding of the reports. I’ve been, as you say, in the
anti-trafficking world for a long time and there are many parallels. We know
enough now from years of studying recruitment strategies of human traffickers
that one main way of luring young women into an exploitative relationship is
under the guise of a romantic partnership. We also know that if a marriage is
forced, it sets up a controlling and coercive environment which can be nothing
short of exploitative.
Claims that all disappearances are the result of impulsive behavior reflect a
deep and potentially dangerous misunderstanding of the use of force, fraud and
coercion that are characteristics of the relationships between the young Coptic
girls and their captors. Both my coauthor Nadia Ghaly and I recognize that not
all disappearances are the results of abduction. Not all marriages are forced.
But, and notwithstanding the ambiguity of many situations we encountered, we
claim that it’s not possible to dismiss each case in our 2009 report on the
grounds that girls willingly left their families. We will contend the same
thing for the report that we present to you today. These are not all cases of
romance gone bad.
So concerned with the escalating violence against Copts in Egypt and
dissatisfied with the lack of response from the U.S. government, Christian
Solidarity International commissioned a second report which we are launching
This new report substantiates our earlier findings. In addition, we have
observed changes in trends and patterns which reinforce the premeditation of
captors. The goal of this report is straightforward – to continue to support
the claims of disappearances, abductions, forced conversions and forced
marriages of Coptic women in Egypt and to continue to challenge the use of the
term “allegation” in U.S. government reports.
So how did we get our information? Well, the findings are based on several key
factors. First of all, we interviewed four Egyptian lawyers who provided us
access to claims filed on behalf of Coptic women who had disappeared as well as
young women who had returned from a forced marriage and conversion and were
attempting to regain their Christian identities. As we’ve already heard, the
withholding of one’s original religion is a repetitive pattern.
We also interviewed representatives of civil society organizations. We spoke
with family members of young women who have disappeared. Some of these
individuals were represented by attorneys. Many cannot afford an attorney and
therefore come themselves. We reviewed Internet sites reporting disappearances
of Coptic girls but we considered only those cases with appropriate
documentation, especially police reports.
And we interviewed women who have returned from forced marriage and conversion.
All of our interviews were conducted from November 16th through November 25th,
2011, in and around Cairo, Egypt. Only verifiable cases are included in our
report. Each of these cases is verifiable through attorneys’ files, personal
interviews and police reports. The names of young women and their family
members and other identifying details are not published to protect their
So what did we find that was a little bit different? We went in not quite
knowing. We wanted to see if the political climate had changed anything. We
wanted to see if the two years since our previous report had affected the
situation in any way. We noticed some similarities and some marked
The first key finding is that the number of disappearances and abductions
appear to be increasing. Each of the attorneys that we interviewed for this
report indicated an increase in his caseload since January 2011. Four
attorneys collectively reported a total of over 550 cases of abductions,
disappearances and petitions to restore Christian identity following
abductions, forced marriages and forced conversions over a five-year period.
Furthermore, one attorney interviewed for this report indicates firsthand
knowledge of over 1,600 cases of Christians petitioning to have their
conversions to Islam overturned in recent years. Sixty percent – over 900
women – 900 of these cases are women.
Data collection, as in the trafficking world, remains a challenge. There is no
systematic data repository within the Coptic community documenting the
disappearances of young women. Priests or bishops keep records of activities
within their churches and communities sometimes. Attorneys maintain their own
caseloads. Activists maintain different websites but there is no
cross-referencing with other data sources.
Furthermore, families of victims don’t report all cases. The police do not
register all complaints filed by family members. In many cases, family members
of missing young women reported that police would not file a report until a
lawyer intervened. In other cases, families don’t file reports because they
don’t believe the claims will be taken seriously or because they fear
retribution by the authorities. Not all families are financially able to
secure the services of an attorney, and while not a guarantee of result, at
least the presence of an attorney enables the filing of a legitimate claim. We
personally spoke to family members who would go to up to five or six different
police stations before some police officer would finally agree to file a claim.
These were dismissed for all of the reasons that we’ve mentioned above.
We’re also noting that fewer girls appear to be returning to their families.
Our 2009 report focused on young women who had returned from forced marriages
and conversion and were struggling to regain her Christian identities. They
report instances of abuse and forced domestic servitude. One woman reported
being prostituted by her captor. Since then, there has been a discernible
change in the dynamics of the disappearances of young Coptic women. Attorneys
handling such cases report that fewer women are being returned to their
families. There is speculation that the young women might be trafficked
overseas but attorneys and activists have not yet been able to document this
finding and we recommend that this trend be followed more seriously.
We note that increasingly social media is being used to inform families about
their daughters’ conversion. One mother we spoke to told us that after looking
for over six months to find news of her daughter, she happened to stumble upon
a videotape of her announcing her conversion on a website of new converts to
Another deeply disturbing finding is that minors and mothers of young children
are being targeted – are being increasingly targeted. In addition to
disappearances of single young women over the age of 18, lawyers report and
increase in the abductions of mothers with young children. While the age of
consent to convert to a different religion is 18 in Egypt, there are increasing
reports that children of mothers who are forced to convert are also
subsequently registered as Muslim. Even if a mother returns to her community,
the children are considered by law to be Muslim and will remain Muslim. So in
forcibly converting one young woman, all of her children will be automatically
considered Muslim as well.
The disappearances are organized and planned. We’ve seen this before but
we’ve received more corroborating evidence. Attorneys, social workers and
members of the clergy interviewed for this and the previous report all attest
to organized and systematic planning in the cases of missing Coptic women.
Tactics to lure young women into relationships follow similar patterns. One
lawyer interviewed for this report stated that the same man's name occurred in
multiple police reports. He married five Christian women who subsequently were
forced to convert to Islam. So he would marry one, take her away, go back,
work on another, get her converted, go back, work on another and systematically
pursue a number of forced conversions. Family members report that their
daughters or sisters were befriended by a schoolmate, a neighbor or another
mother – an older mother figure over time.
Lawyers indicate that their clients benefitted materially. Frequently, family
members were provided with new apartments or furniture, and unemployable young
men were given jobs among the abductor families.
Abductors target vulnerable women and girls, and girls in vulnerable and
unprotected moments. The concluding observations of the U.N.'s Commission on
the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women for Egypt
expressed concern at the very limited information and statistics provided about
vulnerable groups of women in Egypt. Certainly, Coptic women and girls are
vulnerable in many ways. They are members of a religious minority. They come
from closed, insular communities. Their minority status is the basis for legal
and social discrimination.
Captors sever contact between victims and their families. The first task of
the captor is to come between a young woman and members of her family. They
can do this by force, by taking away her phone, by denying her any contact with
her relatives. They lock her up. They deny her mobility. They threaten her,
telling her that if she runs away, her family will never accept her, that they
will punish her, that they will put her in a monastery.
Eventually a young woman is brainwashed and believes that she will be safe only
with her Muslim captor. Ultimately, she will be truly safe only if she
converts to Islam. There is no obligation for a Christian woman who marries a
Muslim man to convert to Islam. So many attorneys claim that this conversion
is the ultimate goal of captivity.
Captors make use of measures involving force, fraud and coercion. A young
woman consents to a glass of sugarcane juice and the attention of a man whose
words promise a life of love, ease and provision. Another woman shares a drink
of water with a woman – with another mother who also waiting for children after
school. A third seeks friendship and escape from a harsh and sometimes abusive
Victims who have not literally been abducted nevertheless did not consent to
being ripped from their family without ever seeing them again. They did not
consent to being forcibly converted to a religion other than their own. They do
not consent to a life of captivity within one small apartment, every outing
supervised by a member of her new husband's family. They said yes to the
things that young women say yes to. They say yes to friendship, to romance, to
hope, a future, safety and security. It is reasonable to accept that most young
women would respond in precisely the same way as many Coptic girls responded to
these offers of friendship and romance which proved to be highly destructive of
their own lives.
Now, about our recommendations, in developing these recommendations for this
report, we consulted with attorneys and civil society actors in Egypt in order
to assess what government actions might support their efforts to protect Coptic
women from falling into captivity and, as a result, into forced marriages and
conversions. There was considerable consensus among those that we spoke to.
First, they would request that local police stations will take seriously and
file all reports on all claims of disappearance of Coptic women and girls and
that all claims will be investigated and family members kept appraised of the
progress of each of these cases. The Egyptian national government will request
an annual accounting of all cases of disappearances including open and ongoing
cases as well as any prosecutions that resulted from these local investigations.
The Egyptian government will create a registry to document the disappearance of
minors. Children of parents who convert will retain the religion of their
birth until they are 18 years old. Laws which penalize discrimination based on
religion in the areas of education, employment and the media will be enacted.
To the Coptic Church, the activists would like to suggest that the church
maintain a central registry documenting instances of disappearance, abductions
and forced marriages and conversions that is laid out according to a rigorous
methodology which can document the instances without sensationalism.
The Coptic community will educate families and young women on the recruitment
and deception patterns that lead to captivity. And for the international
community, the recommendations are that a legal defense fund will be created to
enable Coptic families to secure the presence of an attorney, which as we
indicated is frequently the only way to get a case legally registered as a
disappearance. International or national agencies assessing the situation of
Coptic women in Egypt will recognize that coercion and fraud are represented in
most cases of disappearance, forced marriages and forced conversion, all of
which obviate the consent of the victim.
And finally, my last – the recommendation that ended my last testimony to you,
Mr. Chairman, that international organizations and our government will
recognize both the scope and the scale of the problem and no longer refer to
such cases as allegations. I don’t think that anyone will refer to the witness
who we’ll hear later as an allegation. Mr. Chairman, and members of the
commission, I thank you for your time and interest in this very important
matter. I look forward to answering your questions.
REP. SMITH: Ms. Clark, thank you so very much for your incisive testimony, for
undertaking this extraordinary human rights project, to report, to investigate
and for doing it yourself. So thank you so much for the bravery that that
surely exhibits. Dr. Phares, please proceed.
WALID PHARES: Thank you. Mr. Chairman, members of the commission, I would
like to thank you very much for extending this invitation to me to address this
very dramatic issue of persecution and of abduction of girls and women in the
Coptic community in Egypt. I have titled my paper, my presentation as “The
Strategy of Subduing a Community by Terrorizing its Women.” And thank you, Mr.
Chairman, for including the full text of my testimony in the records.
What I would like to do for the sake of time is to summarize the following.
First, from a strategic perspective, what are the findings of our colleagues.
This year and last year in this body, in Congress and also in the European
Parliament, if I may, have been telling us what are the major points that we
can respond to. From there, I’d like to ask five questions and answer them.
That would allow the commission and therefore members of Congress and our
government in general terms to respond to the challenge.
The violence against Coptic women in Egypt, as many experts have already
testified before this prestigious forum over the past few years, and last year
in particular, these acts of violence against Egyptian Coptic women both
individually and collectively have been unrelenting, repetitive and directed
almost exclusively at young, single women and who are at the age of marriage or
This violence, which is described in several reports already submitted to your
commission, to the Congress in general, to other legislative bodies around the
world, have – can be summarized as follows.
A, the attacks have been ongoing for more than three decades, with peaks in
B, the victims have primarily been young Christian women.
C, Egyptian security and judicial authorities have not helped in general terms
the families of these girls and have not actually conducted an investigation, a
thorough national investigation of who is that network in Egypt that basically
has been perpetrating those attacks for the last five years at least
D, an overwhelming majority of the kidnappings and violence have been carried
out by individuals and groups who claim to be acting on their ideology, on
behalf of their ideology, a doctrine, a set of fundamental beliefs known as
Salafism or Jihadism which they claim is the strict implementation of sharia
E, an overwhelming majority of these crimes have been dismissed by government
security and justice institutions, and the radical factions have been
protecting many of these perpetrators, assigning essentially blame to the
female victims and their families.
F, violence against young Christian women in Egypt has continued after the
downfall of the previous regime, and formation of the current alternative
government and its institutions.
These findings, Mr. Chairman, prompt the following questions, five of them.
A, have the attacks been widespread and consistent over time, so that we can
deal with the argument of this is just a reaction to a love affair or a social
situation gone bad? Is the history of these attacks reflective of the legal
and security status of the Coptic Christian community at large?
Two, is the violence committed by an organized movement or by individuals who
claim to be acting on behalf of an ideological movement?
Three, does the attitude of government security, judicial and political
institutions reflect cooperation with the attackers, or just neglect for the
protection of a segment of Egyptian society?
Four, what are the consequences of the continuous attacks against Coptic
females, and thus the Coptic community, despite the regime change of government
change and rise of new institutions in Egypt, which I feel is a key element in
our discussion today.
And five, what can and should the United States government, specifically the
administration, do to put an end to these violent practices against the women
of the Christian Coptic community?
Answering those questions or attempting to do so will equip members of the
commission and thus of Congress with the perspective needed to understand the
exact nature of the crisis and make informed recommendations regarding possible
new legislation and alternative policies for adoption by the executive branch.
Point number one, the nature of these attacks – according to prior research
submitted to your commission and to other congressional committees, targeted
attacks against Coptic Christian women are not unrelated and isolated acts of
On the contrary, kidnapping and forcing captive women to convert to Islam has
been documented for decades, revealing hundreds of victims each year. Research
and Coptic sources claim that violence against Coptic women has been practiced
since even before the rise of modern Egypt. But current research is confirming
that this abuse was documented for at least the last half a decade, or decade,
especially in the last five or three years. Therefore, the first characteristic
of the crisis is its longstanding history.
This means that any solution to the problem must address its historical roots
and scope of the violence. This violence against Coptic females took place
before and after the Arab Spring, before and after 9/11, before and after the
end of the Cold War and before and after World War II. We are dealing with a
threat that has the dimension of an attitude by either a movement or an
ideology with regard to the Coptic community.
Now, with regard to the perpetrators, while research over the past five years,
I must admit, has not revealed a well-designed structure that openly and
officially takes responsibility for these attacks against Coptic Christian
women, it has shown, however, patterns and statements that indicate the
existence of a movement that hails from a well-publicized ideology, namely,
Salafist, namely Islamist fundamentalists, or also known as Jihadism.
In almost all cases, Mr. Chairman, the kidnappers argued that their actions
were legitimized and inspired by Salafist and jihadist principles. One central
tenet that most of my colleagues have mentioned already this year and last
year, one central tenet of those principles is that individuals – in this case,
females – who convert from Christianity to Islam cannot revert back to their
original religion, must accept their, quote, unquote, “forced marriages,” and
in some cases, families of the victims were asked to pay a tribute to recover
The reference to jihadist views, applicable to Christian Copts in general and
women and girls in particular, shows that the acts perpetrated against them and
their communities are ideologically and politically motivated.
Government failure and collaboration – we also detected that based on reports
by human rights groups as well as the Coptic community and liberal Egyptian
NGOs, that local Egyptian police and security forces, national security
agencies, including the now-gone state security agency Amn al-Dawla, are or
were either covering up the attacks, or protecting the perpetrators.
Therefore, when we look at the historical timeline of security collaboration
with the perpetrators or, at a minimum, non-support of the victims and their
families, this coincides as well with the timeline of similar aggressive
behavior against the community as a whole. Coptic activists and NGOs –
including the Washington, D.C.-based Coptic Solidarity International – have
accused Egyptian security services under the Mubarak regime of using Salafists
to conduct attacks against Coptic targets to maintain the community under the
protection of the government.
Coptic and liberal Egyptian NGOs have argued that the new security agencies
formed after the collapse of the Mubarak regime, after the latest legislative
elections, continue to allow these practices or help the perpetrators.
Consequences of attacks against Coptic women, which I consider one of the most
important key analyses in our discussion – if the aggression targeting
Christian Coptic women continues and widens, without a determined and
aggressive intervention by the Egyptian government to put an end to this
practice, there will be serious consequences on Egyptian Christian women, their
own communities – Christian Coptic community – but also on Egyptian women in
general, leading to a weakening of civil society and a dramatic setback to
freedom, to human rights and democracy in Egypt.
The chief consequence of unchecked aggressions against Coptic women and the
terror – is basically the terror it is instilling in the hearts of Christian
women who count for at least half of the 15 or so million Christian Copts in
Egypt. The hundreds of repetitive attacks against Coptic women send a clear
signal to millions of young women in Egypt who feel targeted by the jihadists
and Salafists, compelling them to limit their movement, to narrow their social
circles and to separate them from Muslim communities.
So violence against Coptic women leads to a de facto gender apartheid in Egypt,
where Christian women will be increasingly deterred from finding jobs, from
expressing their opinion, from wearing their own preferred outfits and
circulating in public spaces.
The effects on Coptic women will also extend to the entire Christian community
as half of its members are increasingly intimidated by acts of violence
committed on hundreds of young women. When one segment of community is
terrorized, it reverberates throughout their families and communities, forcing
the collective into mental ghettos and therefore emigration.
Rape, abduction and forced conversion are among the root causes of a general
sentiment among Copts that pushes thousands of them to flee the country – the
country of their ancestors. Outside the community, the attacks against Coptic
Christian women and their results will bring other consequences, Mr. Chairman,
to bear on secular Egyptian women in general, meaning Muslim secular Egyptian
women in general, both liberal and conservative.
By failing to protect its Coptic citizens, the Egyptian government will be
perceived as incapable of protecting other segments of the population also
targeted by the Salafists and the jihadists.
Muslim liberal and secular women, who already fear the strict implementation
and enforcement of the jihadi-viewed sharia law, will be under increased
pressures by the most extreme elements of the Islamist movement to wear the
hijab and later, the full niqab. The attacks on defenseless Coptic women are a
mere prelude to a wider campaign to impose its ideological agenda, clearly seen
in the Salafist movement as early as 2011.
The role of the U.S. government, finally – the United States government has an
international responsibility in addressing the situation in the same way our
U.S. foreign policy has addressed mass scale abuse of human rights around the
globe for the last 20 to 30 years. We recommend for the Helsinki Commission to
adopt the following steps as a way to help protect Coptic women and girls in
Egypt from abuse, and defend their universal rights.
One, reaffirm the conditions on global U.S. foreign aid to Egypt, despite all
the debate that has been taking place in Washington about it, of a
constitutional provision announced by the drafters of the new Egyptian
constitution, that the practices of abducting, torturing and forcing
conversions on Coptic women or any element of society is a terrorist act which
is punishable by law. This is not an infringement of their liberties. It is a
terrorist act. Kidnapping in Colombia is a terrorist act. Kidnapping in any
part of the world is a terrorist act.
Two, make a congressional declaration that crimes against Coptic women inspired
by extremist ideologies targeting communities will be considered crimes against
humanity punishable under international law. There are no differences between
rape and aggression against women in Egypt and what happened in Yugoslavia or
in Bosnia or in Kosovo.
Three, partner with Coptic and civil society NGOs, extending financial support
directly to these entities as part of the global U.S. aid to Egypt. If you
want to send foreign aid to Egypt, if you want to send hundreds of millions of
dollars, we also need to earmark part of that air to the NGOs that are
representative of the weakest elements of the Egyptian society, that will be
women and minorities.
Four, ensure that the educational and informational system in Egypt,
particularly state-supported institutions, which we are funding, by the way,
isn't used to propagate the ideology or precepts used by the perpetrators of
the attacks as a way to legitimize violence and discrimination against Coptic
women and encourage acts of violence against them.
Mr. Chairman, what happened in the classroom in Egypt is the beginning of the
process of the development of a radical educational and also cultural policy
that ends up convincing the perpetrators that what they are doing is the right
thing to do. So we need to also be sure that educational and informational
system in Egypt are reformed – are adapted to international standards of human
And lastly, number five is to conduct an international investigation. It would
be U.S.-led, and I’m sure that the European government would be very interested
in joining. But an international investigation of this mass abuse of human
rights that is targeting a segment of an Egyptian society, because we cannot
rely on the Egyptian justice system at this point in time. We could help that
justice system. We could equip them with advisers. We could begin by sending
a commission to Egypt to begin that investigation.
I would end by saying that the current situation in Egypt presents us with a
historic opportunity. Now that elections have taken place, now that a
president has been elected, it is very important to our administration, to our
executive power to engage in a discussion – in an open discussion, not in a
The perpetrators in Egypt must know from the media, from public discussion that
our officials are demanding from the president of Egypt, are demanding from the
future elected or the current parliament that these issues would be at the
table, that the constitutional committee that is looking at the future
constitution will take consideration of these elements. Thank you, Mr.
Chairman. Thank you, members.
REP. SMITH: Dr. Phares, thank you very much for your extensive testimony and
your leadership for so long on these issues. I’d like to now ask a woman who
has been victimized by abduction – as I indicated earlier, recently got asylum
here in the United States. And as we all know, getting asylum is no easy
business. There needs to be proof. An administrative law judge needs to be
convinced. There is a whole process that needs to be followed. Her
information seems to be absolutely credible. So we welcome her to the
commission and ask her if she would now proceed.
MS.: (Via interpreter.) I am a Coptic Christian from Egypt, from Alexandria,
and on January 5th, 2011, I was at my mother’s and it was about 7 p.m. at
night. I had left my mother’s home and I was carrying my daughter because she
I was getting onto a microbus and when I had taken the first step, I felt
myself falling backwards onto my back. I didn’t know what was going on. All I
felt was that someone was picking me up off the ground. I was asking him, what
do you want, what are you doing. And he said, you’re coming with me. You’re
going to get into this taxi. I didn’t know what to do. I was just trying to
hold on to my daughter because I was afraid she would fall. I was screaming. I
didn’t know what he wanted. I had no idea why he was doing this.
People started to look and wondering what was happening and he just started
yelling, this is no one’s concern, she’s an enemy of Islam, this is no one’s
concern, she’s an enemy of Islam. I didn’t know what to do. He was dragging
me and people were just watching. And then he got me to the taxi. He kept
trying to shove me into the taxi by holding me from the back of my head. I
kept trying to resist and push back but he just kept trying to shove me into
the taxi by holding me from the back of the neck.
As he was trying to shove me into the car, my daughter’s eye hit the corner of
the door of the taxi. I didn’t know what to do. She was screaming. I didn’t
know how to fight back. I wasn’t sure what I should do. Suddenly, the guard
from my mother’s building started hitting him and he pulled me away from him.
The guy jumped into the taxi. There was a driver in there and they drove away.
The man who helped me was only concerned about helping me and taking care of
He took me back to the home. I was crying. I couldn’t process what had just
happened. I couldn’t understand why did this happen, what just happened to me.
My daughter was crying. I looked and I noticed that her eye was red and it
started to swell. The man who saved me hit the intercom button and called my
parents down. My parents came down and saw me in a hysterical state. He
called my husband and told him to come immediately. He came and he took us
both to the hospital. When we got to the emergency room, they told us not to
worry. It was just a superficial injury and they gave us some medication to
treat the injury and then we started home.
On the way home, I started to feel terrible pain. I was in my second month of
pregnancy and I started to feel like I was bleeding. My mother contacted the
doctor and he told her to have me come to the clinic immediately. My mother
took my daughter home and my father, my husband and I went directly to the
clinic. The doctor there informed me that I had miscarried and I had to
perform a procedure to remove the baby.
They performed the procedure for me and after that I returned home with my
father and my husband. I was in a very bad emotional state as was my daughter.
I was terrified. I was terrified from everything. I was afraid to leave the
house. I was even afraid to hear the doorbell ring. I kept asking myself what
if this man hadn’t saved me, where would I be now, what would have happened to
Until today, when I think about it, I thank God that I was saved. But then I
wonder about the others that weren’t saved, what happened to them. I try and
imagine what about those people, what about the others, the other victims. I’m
here today so I can tell you what happened to me. I try and imagine and think
what would – where would I be, where would my daughter be, would I ever have
seen my husband again, my family again.
We live in Egypt and we experience a lot of persecution. But we try and live
with it. But the deaths and the kidnappings, that is too difficult to bear.
For a child to live without a mother or a mother to live without her child,
what did they do, what did they do to deserve this. What would have happened
to my father? What would have happened to my husband? They take women because
they know the shame that it will bring to the family. How can they survive?
REP. SMITH: Thank you very much for bravely coming here and telling us of what
is an absolutely gut-wrenching and terrible experience. And I think you help
to bring for all of us what it was like to be in the beginning stages of an
abduction. We know others who have been abducted for long periods of time.
Michele Clark has spoken often about that, especially in previous testimonies.
So thank you so much for your courageous witness before this commission today.
I would like to ask a few questions of our witnesses, beginning first with Dr.
Phares. The name of your testimony, the headline, the title of “The Strategy
of Subduing a Community by Terrorizing its Women,” – we just heard a terrorized
woman talk about how being a victim has the potential of bringing shame to
herself and to the family which I think is precisely and the absolutely wrong
way of looking at it.
But that be as it may, I would argue, and I know you would agree, that this
kind of terrible targeting of women, terrorizing women brings shame not only to
those who engage in this barbaric behavior but also those who enable it by
indifference, by their silence, by their looking askance, looking the other
And I want to ask you – and I mean this very sincerely and I hope if you have
information, we will write – I will write a letter asking if this was brought
up. Before I get to that, after our first hearing, when Michele Clark
testified and told us it is no longer a case of saying these are allegations
but these are facts on the ground that women are being abducted, they are being
forced into marriages, they are being abused. This is a despicable treatment
of women. And it’s not just an allegation. It needs to be really combatted.
And it needs more chronicling.
Certainly the United States government has the capabilities, the wherewithal
and the knowledge as to how to do it. In direct response to that testimony,
Congressman Frank Wolf put your statements, Ms. Clark, in the hands of Anne
Patterson, who was actually meeting with him right upstairs in this office –
his office. And I put it in the hands of Michael Posner, the assistant
secretary for democracy, human rights and labor.
I would ask you, if you could, do you have any knowledge as to whether or not
Assistant Secretary Michael Posner has done anything with this damaging
information? I would point out for the record so there’s absolute clarity on
this, when we had a phone videoconference with Anne Patterson, I asked her
directly with others sitting there listening as to whether or not she had acted
upon this terrible human right abuse being meted out on women in Egypt and
whether or not, you know, we had deployed Foreign Service officers, the human
rights person in the embassy to follow-up and to look into this and do their
You have gone to Egypt, Ms. Clark. You took time out of your schedule to do
this. We have people on the ground who are eminently capable and knowledgeable
and know how to do this kind of reporting. And Ms. Patterson told me –
Ambassador Patterson – no, she had not gotten around to it. And we had a very
spirited exchange. I asked her to do it. To date, I know of no investigation
undertaken by the U.S. embassy in Cairo.
Added to that, we just had our secretary of State, Hillary Rodham Clinton, meet
with the president of Egypt, and I’m wondering if any of you could tell us or
if we have any reason to believe that the secretary of State has raised this
issue anywhere and at any time and specifically has she raised it with the SCAF
and/or – not and/or, but and has she raised it with the president of Egypt. Do
you have any information?
MS. CLARK: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I read the transcript of the hearing in
which you spoke to Secretary Posner. I was not able to be at that hearing on
November 16th of last year because I was actually getting on a plane going to
Egypt that very afternoon. So I remember the date. What I can say is that no
one from his office has contacted me to find out or the coauthor of this
report, to find out information about our cases.
The cases have been disputed. The cases – people have gone publicly on record
saying that no one has been able to substantiate these cases, that they are
inflammatory – they contain inflammatory allegations but without
substantiation. The only way they could be substantiated is by asking me who’s
involved because the identities have not been published and no one has
approached me from Secretary Posner’s office to ask me about follow-up on the
DR. PHARES: Mr. Chairman, I would like first of all to take the opportunity to
thank you for what you do for the community and for engaging the community not
just in inviting witnesses to testify in front of this prestigious committee
but actually for yourself, for the second or third year to go to the community,
to their leadership and engaging them, sitting with them for hours and hours.
And yourself acting as an investigator of the human rights abuses of the
community, that is the example that we in the world of NGOs would like to see
you and your colleagues and also the State Department and the administration
And the term engagement has been used by the administration for the last four
years repetitively. But unfortunately, among the recipients of the engage, we
didn’t see a representative of the Copts. We saw many delegations from the
Muslim Brotherhood, before and after the Arab Spring. We are now seeing
possibly Salafist delegations heading to the State Department or to the embassy
or maybe beyond that.
But we haven’t seen delegations from the Coptic leadership going or being
invited actually to our administration and being asked about that issue. My
esteemed colleague mentioned the issue of alleged. I mean, in international
law, if one incident is alleged, if 20 incidents are alleged, if 500 incidents
over five years are alleged, then what is alleged at the end of the day?
To answer you more specifically your question about do we know about any
discussions that took place between the secretary and the president of Egypt,
well, what we have are open resources and open sources and also the responses
from the NGO – the Coptic NGO. The issue of the Coptic community as such – and
I would like to mention – take advantage also of my time to mention the
direction of the narrative of the administration, which is very important. And
that could help the narrative of Congress.
When we talk about religious freedom, we put all our efforts to make sure that
religious freedom basically is the freedom of the religious community. It’s
not just to go to church on Sunday. It is not that hour-and-a-half or three
hours from home to church and back. Unfortunately, the narrative that we’ve
heard over the past three years, and significantly this year, is that religious
freedom is now being perceived by the executive branch as freedom to practice
That is not religious freedom because you may well go to church while the
entire community is suppressed or driven to jails or even outside the country.
What needs to be done is a re-discussion, first in Congress and then in
dialogue with the administration, that the Coptic community has to be
recognized as a community.
These are not just individual Egyptians who happen to be Christian who are
struggling to go, you know, every Sunday and pray at church, which means that
this community basically has to be received, has to be basically recognized in
the same way we see representatives from the Kurds of Iraq or from the people
from Darfur or from the Palestinians, for that matter, or even from East Timor.
This is a community that has rights. It happened that it is Christian.
In Bosnia, they were Muslims. In other places, they are parts of different
religion. So unless we see a change in the narrative of the administration
that would recognize the Copts as a community, that would start to receive them
at the highest level of our government as such and listen to their issues, I
don’t think that there is a recognition of the problem that exists as a
collective problem in Egypt unfortunately.
MS. CLARK: Thank you, and I’d like to really support what my colleague has
said. In the early says of the trafficking – anti-trafficking community, as
you know so well, the State Department required a minimum number of cases. A
country would be put on the TIP report only if a minimum number of cases were
proven. That makes sense. You don’t want to issue a scathing report based on
allegations. These were provided. Countries were rated. I know this because
I was involved in designing a lot – several of the methodologies used to count
these numbers. What are we waiting for in this particular area? How many more
young women will it take who come and say they endured a miscarriage because
they were wrenched into a bus with their baby whose eye gets – is wounded next
to a car holding onto the mother.
The instances of Copts seeking asylum since the collapse of the Mubarak regime
has escalated, including a large number of women on these same claims. So
we’re seeing one aspect of our government that is recognizing the truth of
these instances. Our immigration courts are saying yes, that you were almost
abducted, that you returned from an abducted situation, that you fear
abduction. These are reasons for granting asylum.
I think it’s time to create a bit of harmony in this – in our policy in this
area. I was a witness myself in a federal immigration hearing a year ago for
asylum on the basis of fear of abduction and that in that case it was also
awarded. So enough is enough, really. How many more times do we have to sit
here and bring voices and bring stories and talk about parents who agonize?
They have imagined – as a parent, your daughter doesn’t come home from work,
you don’t see her for two months, three months, nine months. You hear nothing
and maybe if you’re lucking you’ll then hear her – you’ll see her face covered
in a veil announcing her conversion in muffled terms on a YouTube video. But
worse, maybe you’ll hear nothing, absolutely nothing.
The silence now, the abductions, the disappearance followed by nothing is so
disturbing because something is happening to those young women. They haven’t
been raptured. They haven’t disappeared into thin air. Something has happened
to them. What? We need to find out. We need to require an accounting. We
need to find out how many there are and we need to start investigating what is
happening to these disappeared women.
REP. SMITH: I should make a note for the record at this point we had invited
Assistant Secretary Jeffrey Feltman from the administration to come here to
take questions and to give testimony, of course. But apparently, they chose
not to come.
I would say for the record as well, we will reissue the request and that would
include Assistant Secretary Michael Posner to come and give an accounting.
It’s not like – and especially the women who are being victimized – are being
impatient. This information was physically – I actually put it into his hands.
It wasn’t sent by courier or anything else and we still have had no response,
which I find appalling. If not the United States, then who?
Thankfully the European Parliament has shown even more interest than the United
States government has and I think that’s unfortunate. We should have both be
equally interested when women are being exploited and abused in such a horrific
way. You noted, Ms. Clark, in your statement that the number of disappearances
and abductions appear to be increasing.
And just four attorneys, as you pointed out, collectively a total of 550 cases
of abductions, disappearances and petitions to restore Christian identify
following abductions, forced marriages and forced conversions over a five-year
period – four lawyers and I’m sure there are hundreds, if not thousands of
lawyers, but certainly hundreds who would have vital knowledge of this issue.
Do you have any sense yet as to the scope of this grotesque human rights abuse?
And secondly, with regards to this, where is the U.N.? You know, Egypt is a
signatory since 1982 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political
Rights. Article VIII of that makes it very clear – it forbids slavery and
servitude. Forced marriage certainly falls under the rubric of that.
So my question would be, you know, where – you know, I know – you know, there
was a periodic review back in I think it was 2010. But at any time, any
country can bring – and we are members in good standing of the Human Rights
Council – can bring an action before the Human Rights Council to engage in
debate and investigation. To the best of my knowledge, the United States has
said nothing. I’m not sure if the European members who are part of that
commission have said anything. But it would seem to me that would be an avenue
to raise this – again, this grotesque violation of women’s rights in Egypt
which is the equivalent of rape. When you abduct someone, force them into a
marriage, by any other definition that is rape. And why have we been so
silent? If you can speak to that issue and those couple of questions?
MS. CLARK: Thank you, Mr. Smith. There is an increasing – the challenges I
mentioned in my testimony of data collection are manifold for two reasons. The
authorities are most of the time unwilling to file a disappearance report.
If a Coptic father or relative goes to a police station in the district where
just after a daughter disappeared or was abducted, many, many times that parent
gets – or family members gets a runaround – well, they’re here or well, we
don’t know, maybe she’s just run away again, why are you reporting her, she
probably went off with her boyfriend. And so, often the only way a Coptic
family fan file a case of disappearance of abduction is if they have a lawyer.
Many – because many of the disappearance and abductions take place in rural
communities or communities where individuals have less disposable income, they
can’t afford a lawyer. And many of the attorneys that we spoke to actually
take these cases completely pro bono and it ends up becoming a major part of
their caseload. So they work – they’re very heroic in that they put in a great
deal of long hours to take these cases.
So, which is why one of our recommendations was to try to enable some kind of
legal defense fund among the civil society actors to make sure that the lawyers
are compensated and continue to go on making their living. So scope, I’m
really – it’s very hard-pressed. Five lawyers are saying that they are seeing
over a hundred cases a year and these are four lawyers, it can go anywhere. I
know some people are partial to extrapolation. I tend to be wary of
extrapolation. It’s a lot. It’s a lot.
Perhaps Dr. Phares has more understanding – understands more. And the U.N., no
– we were able to – in researching this second report, we looked high and low
for evidence that the U.N – the Commission on the Elimination of Discrimination
Against – All Forms of Discrimination Against Women – whether they were doing
anything. No, we have not been able to find any references among the U.N. or
agencies directed towards the Coptic issue.
REP. SMITH: So the panel of experts that seeks to implement and admonish
countries – that’s CEDAW – only makes that vague comment that you put into the
MS. CLARK: Yes, that’s was as much –
REP. SMITH: And they have done nothing more than that?
MS. CLARK: Nothing more than that that we have been able to find.
REP. SMITH: Let me ask you, your trend lines were important and again, number
of appearance – disappearances and abductions increasing, fewer girls appear to
be returning. And you know, with every statement you’ve made, disappearances
are organized and planned. The trend line is bad and getting worse.
What do you think it will take for the United States government and for other
governments and hopefully Islamic countries and especially the country of
Egypt, the government of Egypt to understand the outrage and the shame and
dishonor this terrible human rights abuse brings to Egypt? How do you shout
out loud enough to say these women are being abducted? What if it was your
daughter or your sister or your mother?
MS. CLARK: The calls for justice need to come and they need to come louder.
It needs to be brought up by our embassy in Egypt. There has to be an
REP. SMITH: Have they? Have they brought this up?
MS. CLARK: To my knowledge, I think you and I are on the same page as far as
what we know. Dr. Phares, would you –
DR. PHARES: Yes, Mr. Chairman, thank you for asking this question. I would
insist again on the fact that the administration or any administration should
change direction in dealing with the Coptic issue. This is not about
individual problems with other individual, you know, perpetrators. This is an
issue of community.
Before the Arab Spring in Egypt, the Egyptian government of Hosni Mubarak, our
ally, despite repetitive demands by the Congress to look into the issue, their
representative in the Human Rights Council in Switzerland has blocked – has
been blocking the issues. Now, we need to come to President Morsi, the
democratically elected president of Egypt and ask him to instruct his own
representative, his own ambassador in Geneva at the council to actually raise
We want the Egyptian government themselves to raise the issue so that we would
basically come and help them. But more important, as my colleague has
mentioned, there should be actual physical legal acts on our behalf and on
behalf of the international community. We can certainly write to the Arab
League. You, Mr. Chairman, mentioned the issue of shaming them.
Well, they are members of the Arab League and when the Arab League took a
decision to have an intervention – a collective intervention in Libya because
of abuse of human rights, Egypt voted for. So now, yes, we’d like to send a
letter, Congress could, the administration should, to the Arab League to look
into the issue. And you could go higher than that, as you just mentioned, to
the Organization of the Islamic Conference. These are institutions with whom
we have relationship.
The administration has an ambassador basically that goes to the Organization of
the Islamic Conference. We should enable that ambassador to go and talk about
the specific issue. Egypt is a member of the OIC. So we need to engage in a
dialogue with the administration to convince them to use every tool at their
powers. It’s not just a discrete discussion between a secretary of state and a
president. It should be an open issue.
And last, if I may say, if it comes to that level, our embassy should simply,
you know, grant visas to the victims and bring them to Congress or your
European counterparts should bring them to the European Parliament. Make it
into a public debate, a public issue. That would basically put a lot of
pressure on the government of Egypt.
REP. SMITH: Michele – Ms. Clark, you mentioned in your testimony that mothers
with young children are increasingly targeted for abduction. And we heard from
the victim just a few moments ago when she said, what would happen to my
daughter if she – if the abductor had succeeded. My question to you is, is
this a new trend or are we just getting more information on that? You know,
what happens to those children? Are they compelled to become Muslim as well?
MS. CLARK: Yes, they are. If the mothers – if the mother is forcibly
converted, then all children take on the dominant religion, which is Islam.
When we were there on our last trip, we spoke to a number of families where the
mother – the children were kept from – were not – were caught between two
worlds because the families were continuing to – in cases where mothers had
been able to come back, where the children – or if the mother is abducted, even
if the children are not with her, the children are still converted
automatically according to practice.
So the children are caught between two worlds because they are from a Christian
community but their documents would indicate that they have been converted
because of the conversion of one parent. And so, they become trapped.
REP. SMITH: Let me –
MS. CLARK: Yes, the trend is more. We encountered a greater number of
families where abductions actually included a mother and several children or
targeting a family, a mother was abducted on her way to Cairo to visit her
mother in the hospital and then this woman’s daughter was at the same time
being lured in through a fraudulent relationship away from her studies at a
And so the whole family was targeted in different locations. It was actually
very strategic, to use Dr. Phares’ words. There was a plan behind this to
literally co-opt the entire family.
REP. SMITH: Let me ask you, Dr. Phares, have any – you talked to strongly
about violence against women, which this is, and terrorizing women. Are there
any of the women’s organizations taking a stand in favor of Coptic Christian
women and spoken out?
DR. PHARES: Mr. Chairman, to my knowledge, from public narrative posted or
printed, we haven’t seen a significant statements or policy papers issued by
prominent national organizations dealing with women’s issues both in the United
States or dealing with those issues abroad. There have been mention, of course,
of these issues but we haven’t seen, for example, major NGOs dealing with women
raising the issue of persecution of Coptic women.
And if I may take advantage of the answer to mention that the third branch of
our government, I have testified for the last 18 years to many courts, like you
have, dealing with political asylum. Judges’ first question to us, to most of
the experts who are dealing with the Coptic issue and with other persecutions
as well is, is there a country condition?
It’s not just about the person. Are you testifying on that person or on a
country condition? And they would not grant permission, they would not grant
political asylum unless the expert would explain to them that of course the
community is persecuted. So that’s – you have with you the third branch
logical question about this issue so that we could communicate this to the
REP. SMITH: Do imams countenance this and affirm or in any way embrace this
abuse of women?
DR. PHARES: In Egypt, regarding the position of the clergy, one must recognize
that the highest authorities in al-Azhar have had several positions condemning
any act of violence. The problem is that we would like to see them condemning
the network that is perpetrating these acts of violence. And we’ve seen this
across the Middle East.
Islamist authorities have been, you know, candid enough to condemn terrorism or
to condemn acts of violence against minorities should it be in Syria or in
Lebanon or in Egypt and specifically in Egypt. What we need them to see – to
direct themselves to is to condemn the actual networks that are conducting this
and the actual ideology that the networks are using in perpetrating their acts.
REP. SMITH: Let me just ask our victim who, again, we’re so grateful she’s
here, all of us – I’m sure even the panel feels the same way. Before you were
abducted, did you have any fears of abduction? Is abduction something that is
discussed among your friends? And have any of your friends had any similar
MS.: (Via interpreter.) Before this attempted kidnapping, many times we would
be spit on in the street, cursed at, acid water sometimes thrown on women. It
hasn’t happened to me but it’s happened to others. I was afraid. Even after
the event, after the Saints Church, I was even afraid to take my daughter to
preschool. We are afraid for ourselves. We are afraid for our children. In
the last two years, a lot of bad things have been happening right after one
REP. SMITH: Let me just ask our panelists if they have any final closing
comments that they would like to make. I would note that the recommendation
for or the suggestion of a letter to the OIC I think is an excellent one and to
others. We will undertake that and follow up. I plan on doing a follow-up
letter to the secretary of state asking what, how often, where has this
barbaric practice and the effort to combat it been raised with the secretary of
state and others.
So I do hope that’s a good news story, that this has been robustly engaged and
they’re fighting back. And that would include with the SCAF, whether or not
they are, you know, ever focused on – you know, the economic or I should say
the military aid of $1.3 billion which is a huge amount of money and so it
seems to me that they need to be engaged even at least equally with the
I would ask you if you might want to comment whether or not an amendment
requiring or linking the government’s efforts to combat this egregious practice
and linking it to the billion-three (dollars) that goes to Egypt will be a wise
decision in the foreign ops bill. Yes, we know that the administration, as
they did with the religious freedom part, could simply waive it and I hope they
wouldn’t. In good faith, I hope that they would not waive it or perhaps deduct
a portion of the aid as a penalty. If there’s no penalty and if it’s not even
being brought up, why do we expect any kind of positive movement? And so on
the amendment issue, if you might want to touch on that, and then any
concluding comments that you might want to make.
MS. CLARK: Thank you, again. I want to thank you, Mr. Smith, for holding this
hearing and Christian Solidarity International, for being so persistent and
publishing not one but two reports to make sure that the information is brought
to those who are decision-makers.
Women need to be able to pick up their children from school without fear of
being abducted. Young girls need to be able to go out and have cups of coffee
without their friends without fearing that the brother lurking in the
background is perhaps going to be raping them. Young women need to be able to
come and go and have lives without looking over their shoulder 24 hours a day
wondering if they’re going to end up forced into a taxi, thrust into al-Azhar
to be forcibly converted, married to someone that has deceived them about the
nature of the relationship and living in a coerced situation as a domestic
servant or potentially trafficked outside of their own country.
To not address this issue is to say that we don’t care. And that we cannot
say. So should there be an amendment to the foreign aid bill? Absolutely
because we’re talking about one of the rights that is just so fundamental to
all of us here as Americans. It’s at the heart of what our country is.
Because of fear of abduction, they now feel that these women feel that they
have no movement. They can’t come and go.
The parameters of their daily lives are increasingly entrenched around survival
and safety. This is no way to live. The suffering of parents who haven’t
heard from their daughters for months and years and the silence continues is no
way for a family to live. The sense of marginalization of the young children
who are converted because their mother was forced into conversion and living in
a no man’s land of not being accepted by their own community, that’s not a way
for anybody to live.
Mr. Smith, it’s time that we require acknowledgement of this issue as a bona
fide violation of human rights, as a violation of religious freedom, as a cruel
instance of exploitation against women, as a case of human trafficking and
something that must end. Thank you.
DR. PHARES: Mr. Chairman, I am for an amendment that would link foreign aid to
Egypt to the human rights abuses and the measurement – a clear measurement of
these human rights abuses and the behavior with the Christian women in Egypt
should be part of this measurement. However, we could help the State
Department and the executive branch by suggesting that they would organize a
conference here in Washington, D.C., so that the American public, who is
basically funding this foreign aid at the end of the day, can hear and see
directly from the victims and from all other political parties in Egypt.
Namely, I would like to see a conference that would invite the Muslim
Brotherhood, the Salafists, those who in Egypt are claiming that persecution
does not exist on the one hand and Coptic and women and other minorities, NGOs
under the auspices of the State Department to just have C-SPAN and have the
American public, realizing what is the real relationship and what are the
And last, I would also like to make a recommendation for our foreign policy
when we meet with President Morsi to make sure that he understands that the
United States do consider those issues as part of international law, as part of
our international commitment. And lately, President Morsi, in order to make us
feel comfortable and the intentional community and make those communities feel
comfortable said that he would be willing to appoint a vice president who would
be a Copt, another vice president who would be a woman.
Well, the response came from the Coptic community a few weeks ago, from Coptic
Solidarity International Convention in Washington. They actually told
President Morsi, thank you for your suggestion. We don’t want anybody to be
appointed. We would like to elect our representative and serve as your vice
president. So let’s see what his response is going to be. And thank you very
much for inviting me.
REP. SMITH: And for the final word, the woman who bravely has come here to
testify about her ordeal.
MS.: The last thing is I wish I could have filed the police report. But my
father advised me, who is an attorney, that if we go, we won’t get any of our
rights. In all likelihood, we would be transferred to Egyptian state security.
REP. SMITH: Thank you. Thank you all for your tremendous witness. And the
commission will follow up. Thank you for the many recommendations. The
hearing is adjourned.