Coptic Solidarity – Statement Submitted for the Record
Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe
Hearing: Escalating Violence Against Coptic Women and Girls: Will the New Egypt Be More Dangerous Than the Old?
July 18, 2012
Mr. Chairman, thank you for holding this important hearing on “Escalating Violence Against Coptic Women and Girls: Will the New Egypt Be More Dangerous Than the Old?” Our organization is deeply appreciative of your leadership over the years in raising awareness of and strongly responding to religious freedom violations around the world, particularly in Egypt. We are grateful for your and other Members’ efforts over the years - for giving us hope and for helping to bring concrete change in certain situations. The Coptic community also deeply appreciates your leadership on raising the profile of this issue in the US Congress, in the US and in the international community.
Tragically, the reporting suggests that there is an increase in the disappearance of Coptic girls and women. Over the past decade, Members of Congress have, in written and verbal requests, asked for assistance from both the U.S. and Egyptian Governments on this human rights violation, but sadly, not much action has occurred. Further, with the recent election of the Muslim Brotherhood candidate to the presidency in Egypt, there is concern that there will be even less of an incentive to solve the problem of these disappearances and prosecute those involved in any abductions, rape, coercive detention, forced marriage and forced conversions.
When the Coptic community raises cases and concerns, authorities dismiss the reported cases as mere “romance” between people of two different faiths. In reality, however, reports make clear that most of these “romances” are deliberately designed to lure Coptic girls away from their families. Moreover, reports in media accounts also make clear that when a romance - even if simply a rumored romance -takes place between a Coptic man and a Muslim girl, Muslim mobs invariably gather to attack Coptic communities and impose a collective punishment against any Copts in the area, even if those Copts have nothing to do with the alleged couple or their families.
Mr. Chairman, many in Egypt are living in great uncertainty and fear right now. While we wish that we could report that the Arab Spring has resulted in greater freedoms and protection for minorities in Egypt, the opposite is the case. As a result, patterns of impunity against criminals and human rights violators that occurred under the Mubarak regime have continued to this day and have gotten worse.
Many in the Coptic community and this Congress have been disturbed by the Administration’s response to last year’s hearings in July and December regarding Egypt. Members of Congress specifically requested information detailing the Administration’s actions on behalf of the Coptic community in Egypt. To the best of our knowledge, there has been no information shared, and the Administration has even appeared to be reticent to raise these issues with the Egyptian Government. This is disturbing, particularly when the United States is seen as a beacon of hope that shines the light on atrocities and human rights violations around the world. When the Executive Branch does not shine or is not willing to shine the light on violations against minorities in a strategic region of the world, it leaves the minority community, the Copts in this case, wondering whether or not the United States is still a beacon of hope. It seems to many in Egypt that, per numerous media reports over the last month or two, the U.S. is pushing for “civilian” rule by Islamists to the detriment of the minority community and secular, liberal Muslims.
We remain deeply concerned that this Administration and the international community are ignoring a massive human rights violation. While the world rightly draws attention to those killed or displaced in conflict zones, it is ignoring the hundreds of documented cases of disappearances of women and girls in Egypt. What will it take for the international community to pay attention and take this issue seriously?
Mr. Chairman, we are deeply grateful for your and other Members’ attention to and tireless efforts to shine a light on the plight of Coptic women and girls. We would urge the Administration and the international community to support you and others who are working to bring change to Egypt that will impact all Egyptians for good.
• The Government of Egypt should take concrete steps to ensure that minority communities are protected and that the real perpetrators of attacks are swiftly and strongly prosecuted; this includes those involved, at all levels, in the luring, abducting, rape, detention, forced marriage and forcible conversion of Coptic women and girls.
• The U.S. Senate should immediately pass S. 1245 which establishes a Special Envoy for minorities in the Middle East.
• The U.S. Government should establish a public list to name those involved in disappearances and kidnappings at any level of Egyptian society or government. This list should then be used to ensure that there is a ban visas and travel to the U.S. for anyone in Egypt involved in these criminal acts. While this may be difficult to implement immediately, the U.S. could assist in setting up a mechanism that would allow for kidnapping victims to securely report information on their captors.
• The US government should press the Egyptian Government to immediately end the “hate discourse” in educational curricula and media, and highlight the foundational role of Copts in Egyptian history. Over the long term, this will assist in mitigating the current views that some in Egypt hold about minorities being second class citizens.