Friday, November 18, 2005

Islamist influence grows in Egypt

By Heba Saleh in Cairo *

The priest in charge of a church in Imbaba, a poor area of Cairo, has spent 24 years trying to get the Egyptian authorities to allow him to tear down a wall and install a second exit from the building.

Not only does restricted access make his church a firetrap, but it also means that wedding parties and mourners heading for the condolences hall could find themselves colliding in the tiny lobby.

Egyptian law requires even the most minor alterations to church buildings to be approved by the authorities before they can go ahead. Restrictions also apply to the construction of new churches, which need a presidential decree.

Discrimination against the Coptic Christian minority was the main theme of the second International Coptic Conference on Egypt, held in Washington this week. The gathering, which included an informal hearing on the issue on Capitol Hill, drew virulent criticism in the Egyptian press, where many saw it as an attempt by Copts living in America to mobilise US pressure on Cairo.

But Youssef Sidhom, a Coptic newspaper editor and one of a handful of Egyptians who went from Cairo to the Washington conference, says the problems of the community should not be left to fester any longer.

“As long as the Egyptian political machine insists on falsifying reality and denying the problems of the Copts, our responsibility will be to reveal these problems and place our issues under the international spotlight,” he said.

Copts complain of widespread discrimination, especially in employment. They also say they are rarely given senior state jobs.

The rise of an assertive Islamist current over the last three decades in Egypt has added to the strain on relations between Muslims and Christians. Government efforts to contain the Islamists have combined political repression with concessions to their social and cultural agenda, often at the expense of the principle of equality.

This has deepened mistrust between the two communities and reinforced a tendency on both sides to see their religious identity as more significant than their common citizenship.

Sectarian tensions periodically flare up into violence. In the latest instance, in Alexandria last month, thousands of Muslim demonstrators tried to attack a church because it had produced a play deemed offensive to Islam. Police protected the church, but three people were killed.

The violence prompted a debate of unprecedented frankness in the local press. A chorus of Muslims and Christian commentators argued that both the government and religious leaders were failing to address the underlying problems.

"If things continue this way, it will become dangerous,” says Negad Al Boraie, a democracy activist. “The sectarian trend is becoming more entrenched and this means that with time the members of each community will prefer to just deal with those of their own faith.”

Some people would argue that this is already happening. Sally Rafaat, a Coptic woman who has just graduated from Cairo University, says she went through all four years of her course without making any Muslim friends.

“On my first day at university, I was met by the co-ordinator of the Christian group.” she said. “ He introduced me to the other members, and they became my friends. The Christians on campus isolate themselves, and the others see them as separate. But it is also be-cause there is a very strong Islamist movement on campus which shows no respect to us.”

Coptic participation in public life has declined dramatically in recent decades, while discrimination, and the general poverty of state services, drive many young Christians to the bosom of their churches. These now provide much more than spiritual sustenance; they run clinics, sports tournaments, theatre groups, educational courses and even employment services. This mirrors the activities carried out by mosques and the charities attached to them.

“The government has not allowed the establishment of proper political parties,” says Mr Boraie. “This has left only the churches and the mosques as venues for all sorts of activities, which of course just reinforces the separate religious identities.”

Youssef Sidhoum argues that isolation is damaging to the Copts. He also regrets the increasing tendency of the church to speak for the community on political issues. The Coptic patriarch had made it clear before September’s presidential elections that the church supported the incumbent, President Hosni Mubarak.

“The government agrees that the church should represent Copts, and it considers that what the church says should stand for all Copts,” he says. “Whenever we approach any senior official about any issue related to the community, he asks us: ‘Does your pope approve of this?

====
* FT.com

Christians Oppressed

By SAAD EDDIN IBRAHIM

The Second International Coptic Conference, convening this week in Washington, comes amid Egypt's parliamentary elections and heightened American and international attention to the democratic advances in the Arab world's most populous country. Often overlooked is the fact that Egypt's population of nearly 75 million includes the Middle East's largest Christian minority, over seven million *, the vast majority of whom are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church and have in the last half-century experienced institutionalized discrimination that renders them little more than second-class citizens.

In an earlier era, during the three decades following the end of the First World War -- often referred to as the Arab liberal age -- Christians worked side by side with Muslims in opposition to British occupation and did, in fact, enjoy rights of citizenship that came close to that of their Muslim counterparts. They had long made important contributions in all aspects of Egyptian life -- political, economic, social and cultural. Copts were appointed governors, ministers of foreign affairs, even prime ministers.

It was, however, the dawn of authoritarianism that ended this trend. Since Gamal Abdel Nasser's 1952 coup, Copts have been largely excluded from the top echelons of political and administrative bodies. Only one Christian has since been appointed provincial governor, and that was for a brief period of two years in the remote governorate of North Sinai. Not one has since held a key cabinet portfolio; not one has even been appointed mayor of a city or town. Currently, Copts are sorely underrepresented in parliament, occupying only seven of 454 seats. They are also underrepresented in academia, especially state universities; despite the vast numbers of qualified and respected Coptic scholars, not one has been appointed rector of a university or dean of a college.

These examples and the periodic flare-ups of sectarian violence directed at Copts are symptomatic of the vast discrimination which they endure, as well as the general acceptance among the majority of the population that in a "Muslim state," some are more equal than others. The litany of offenses is constantly raised in the reports of international human rights organizations, the U.S. Congressional "Report on Religious Freedoms," and by the U.N. Rapporteur on Human Rights.

But nothing is as symbolic as the persistence of the Hamayonic Decree, which requires no less than a presidential permit for the building, renovation -- or even the minor repair -- of churches. Of course, no such restrictions exist on the building of mosques. This decree, the remnants of an Ottoman law and the most oppressive of any discriminatory law, is expressly intended to restrict the ability of Copts to practice their faith. It is a monument to the Copts' lowly status in Egyptian society.

The principle of equality among all citizens is a universal value. Indeed, it is explicitly enunciated in Articles 8 and 46 of the long-ignored Egyptian Constitution. However, there can be no genuine hope for true democracy, civil liberties or the abatement of deeply entrenched religious discrimination in Egypt as long as the Hamayonic Decree stands in flagrant violation of the constitution and human rights. It would take no more than the stroke of a pen for President Hosni Mubarak to strike it down. The day that is done, discrimination against Copts will have been dealt a crushing blow, the effect of which will, no doubt, resonate positively for the democratic status of Copts and Muslims alike.

I propose a simple plan to encourage the Egyptian regime to take action. The West's piqued interest in fostering democratic values within the society of its Egyptian ally should be capitalized upon, and Western diplomats should repeatedly ask their Egyptian counterparts one simple question: Why don't you strike down this decree and treat churches as you treat mosques?

No excuses alluding to the alleged preparation by the government of a unified code should be tolerated, nor should the false claim that all requests for the building of churches are routinely approved. Others who decry the repeal of this decree, stating its potential to rend the Egyptian "national unity," would recklessly ignore the fact that the national unity they claim to cherish can be firmly forged only on the basis of true equality among all citizens.

The Coptic Conference in Washington is titled "Democracy in Egypt for Muslims and Christians." Full citizenship rights for all Egyptians, regardless of their creed, is a necessary step if Egypt's long-overdue democratization is to be realized -- a step which cannot be made while the Hamayonic Decree remains intact.

Mr. Ibrahim is an Egyptian pro-democracy activist

============

* Please note that Mr. Ibrahim said the Coptic population is over 7 million, which is the government estimates, but the church estimate the number to be a little over 12 million Coptic Christians in Egypt in addition to the expatriate Copts.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Several US congressmen asked to meet with our team

Several congressmen have asked to meet with our team over the allegations against the US embassy in Egypt , we would like to thank everyone who took the time and effort to write to the US embassy in Egypt and /or their representatives in Washington. We were also able to obtain written statements from Coptic visa/job applicants recounting their experience and continue to urge everyone who applied for a visa/job at the US embassy in Cairo and went through a bad experience to please write to us at 4copts@gmail.com

نواب فى الكونجرس الأمريكى يطلبون اللقاء معنا

بناء على الرسائل التى أرسلناها وقراءنا الى عدة أعضاء فى الكونجرس وبواسطة اتصالات مع أطراف عدة قرر عدد من نواب الكونجرس الأمريكى اللقاء معنا لمناقشة الاتهامات الموجهة من بعض الأقباط ضد السفارة الأمريكية فى القاهرة بخصوص المعاملة الفظة فى بعض الأحيان للمتقدمين للحصول على الفيزا من الأقباط أو الشكوى من رفض تشغيل الأقباط بواسطة بعض المسؤلين عن التوظيف فى السفارة من المسلمين ، واذ نؤكد اننا لسنا ضد عمل المسلمين فى السفارة الا اننا نود ان نؤكد فى الوقت ذاته اننا نرفض ان يتم التعامل مع اى قبطى متقدم للسفارة سواء للحصول على فيزا أو عمل بطريقة فظة بناء على دينه ، من اجل ذلك فإننا نناشد كل من مر بتجربة مريرة مع السفارة من الأقباط ان يكتب الينا ملخصا لما حدث معه سواء بالعربية أو بالإنجليزية (يفضل ارسالها بملف مرفق وليس مكتوبا داخل الايميل حتى يتم عرض العربى بطريقة صحيحة) على عنواننا الالكترونى التالى

4copts@gmail.com

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Egyptian Copts are Oppressed, Oppressed, Oppressed

Tarek Heggy

By: Tarek Heggy *

"Yes, Copts Fear for Themselves, Their Property, and Their Safety"

"Members of the Coptic community (Orthodox Christian Egyptians) and other individuals will convene in Washington, D.C. to discuss the problems facing Copts in Egypt. Despite the complete personal disagreement between myself and the individual who initiated this conference, I will put aside the personal angle in dealing with this topic… since I feel that my way of thinking and writing is above getting dragged into the kind of style known from the security services' investigations department, which [tends to] abandon the heart of the matter and pursue marginal issues related to personalities, suspicions and conspiratorial thinking.

"This security-service mentality is one of the factors that contributed to the collapse of objectivity and rationality in our thinking, and which [cause this kind of thinking] to be so far removed from objective and civilized modes of analysis which are one of the achievements of human civilization.

"The basic issue is: 'Do the Copts in Egypt suffer from serious problems in their own country?' The only possible answer is: 'Yes'.
"Yes, Copts fear for themselves, their families, their property and their safety much more than Muslims do, though the latter, too, are not completely safe."

"Yes, Copts Suffer From a Public Atmosphere of Fanaticism"

"Yes, Copts suffer from a public atmosphere of fanaticism, which is not characterized by friendliness towards them.

"Yes, Copts encounter exceptional obstacles in various stages [of their lives] - in [acquiring] education, obtaining a job and getting promotions - merely because they are Copts.

"Yes, Copts feel that, even though their qualifications exceed the average level of the Muslims (a fact that most Muslims admit), they do not hold important public offices such as district governor, deputy governor, mayor, university president, college dean, or [even] most of the secondary-level positions in the Foreign Ministry, Defense Ministry, Ministry of the Interior, etc. Copts feel that, as soon as a Copt utters his name, which reveals his Coptic identity, he often feels a sharp decline in the degree of friendliness shown towards him."

Even Though Copts Make Up 15% of the Population, They Make Up Only 1% of the Parliament

"Yes, Copts feel that it makes no sense that, even though they constitute about one sixth (15%) of the population, Coptic MPs constitute less than one percent of the parliament.

One does not need to be exceptionally bright in order to realize that this cannot be a mere coincidence, but can only be the result of motivations that are nefarious, irrational, unjust, inhuman and contrary to the basic concept of citizenship.

"Yes, Copts feel that it is an insult to the intelligence of all Copts and all Egyptians to claim that 'everything is all right' now that Sheikh Al-Azhar has been seen embracing the [Coptic] Pope.

"Yes, Copts feel that it is strange that the taxes they pay are spent on building mosques and on the Al-Azhar [Islamic] University, while [at the same time] they must invest huge efforts to build churches at their own expense.

"Yes, Copts, and especially those above the age of 60, feel that the attitude displayed today towards themselves, their wives, their daughters, and their sons is totally different from what they experienced over 40 years ago in the very same Egypt."

"To Accuse Anyone Who Speaks of These Matters of Being an Agent of Parties Hostile to Egypt is Simply a Joke"

"These are the essential aspects of the subject. To accuse anyone who speaks of these matters of being an agent of parties hostile to Egypt, or of being involved in a plot against Egypt, is simply a joke, an insult to the truth and an affront to reason.

"Among the Copts who are concerned with the general Coptic issue, none fail to realize the extent of the disagreement between myself and the engineer 'Adli Abadir, who sponsored the Zurich conference and the upcoming conference in Washington.

"However, I am the kind of person who can say, and I do say, that [despite the fact that] I cannot stand 'Adli Abadir, nor the way in which he presents his thoughts and his style of writing and speaking.

I shall continue so long as I live to reiterate what I have said in this article, and even more. Likewise, I will never say that 'Adli Abadir is an agent acting in someone else's [interest], or that he is conspiring with anyone to harm Egypt. [To make such accusations] is the style of riffraff and a reflection of the style of the security services' investigations department, whose time has passed.

"[As] someone who respects his own thought and intellect - and in my case, his writing - I do not allow myself to join the pack of barking dogs or to abandon the essence of the issue and to look to impugn 'Adli Abadir and Mike Munir's character, because an intellectual must have a totally different nature than that of a police detective."

Egypt Will Never Get On the Road to Recovery so Long as Copts and Women Do Not Enjoy Full and Unimpaired Citizenship


"A few years ago, a person came to my office whose high-level position and job had direct bearing on the Coptic issue, and he asked me why I was so enthusiastically involved in what I call in my writings 'the Coptic issue.' I told him at the time that as an Egyptian it is my obligation to do so, and this is also what makes me support women's issues in Egypt - because Egypt, which today is sick, will never get on the road to recovery so long as Copts and women do not take part in treating Egypt's problems from a position of full and unimpaired citizenship.
"A person who is oppressed and whose rights are denied cannot participate in pushing forward the broken-down wagon. I was sure that this visitor did not understand what I told him, because he was trained to treat the Copts as a threat to Egypt, despite the fact that they are the original Egypt."

If We Don't Recognize the Problem, it Will Turn Into an International Human Rights Issue


"At the time, I also told him: 'If the Coptic issue is not discussed here, in Egypt, it will eventually be discussed abroad, and if we don't recognize all the aspects of the problem, then the Copts abroad will take [their cause] from the stage of merely crying out that they are being oppressed to the stage of [calling it] a human rights issue, and then many will pay attention to them on an international level, including important decision-makers.'

"When I was young, I heard the Arab adage: 'Most fires start from small sparks that people overlooked.' Today [we realize that] most troubles result from their having been ignored when they were small. We demand of the world that they believe our claim that we are above reproach in our treatment of non-Muslims and women, and we relish repeating this, while the world looks at our deeds and finds them to be totally contrary to what we say.

"To come back to the issue of the Copts in Egypt, I contend that the fact that most senior officials continue to ignore the Coptic issue will bring Egypt to crises which I can almost make out on the horizon. They are similar to the crises of others in the region - others who fell prey to the temptation to ignore some problems, and especially to ignore the realities of today's world, that is, the post-Cold War world.

"This is a world in which the idea of sovereignty in its old sense, which had been stable for the many decades preceding the fall of the Berlin Wall, is no longer of any use to anyone. There are those who understand this new world, and there are those who are unable to understand and take in all dimensions of this change…"


=====
* A reformist Egyptian thinker

This articel was translated by MEMRI

The Second International Coptic conference begins, don't expect much out of it

Just like preaching to the choir, no western media will cover the event, and this is why:


At the time of rising hostility against the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt, and at the time that the mere existence of Copts in Egypt is threatened by the rising tide of Islamic radicalism, one would expect a conference that claims to address the Coptic persecution in Egypt to focus on the suffering of Copts throughout the country rather than focusing on - according to many Copts -, few self-centered and self- serving individuals who introduce themselves to the international community as representatives of the Copts.

The foremost reason we should not expect much to come out of the conference held in Washington is the attitude of some organizers of the conference who issue press releases bragging about themselves rather than addressing the cause they claim to defend, and instead of trying to attract the Western media in a way that would appeal to them, they rather followed a self promoting sterategy.

Look at the original press release issued by the organizers to supposedly promote the conference to see how the conferenceis was being advertised:
Quote:


President of U.S. Copts Association, Michael Munier, to Host International Coptic Conference in Washington, D.C.

WASHINGTON Nov. 13WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 /PRNewswire/ -- The man behind the cause: Scholar and human rights activist, expert on Egyptian and Middle East political affairs, Michael Munier, President of the U.S. Copts Association, will host other Christian and Muslim pro-democracy leaders from Egypt and the broader Middle East as they will assemble in Washington for the second International Coptic Conference, announced the publicist for the event, Eleana Benador.

End quote.


- A known group of Coptic activists were also prevented from attending the conference even though they had a surprising video interviews subtitled in English of individuals who were beaten, tortured, their cross tattoos removed and replaced by skin grafts at government hospitals against their will while in sedation, in addition to videos of closed and burned churches !

Monday, November 14, 2005

Does The American Embassy In Cairo Discriminate Against Coptic Christians?


If you are a Coptic Christian, try to apply for a visa at the American Embassy in Cairo, once you pass through the gate, you will feel as if you are inside a mosque in Afghanistan. Posters of “Islam is a religion of Peace”, “Islam means peace”, “The life of Muslims in the US”, "Islam is the fastest growing religion in the US", in addition to images of American mosques are posted everywhere in the American embassy in Cairo.

If you are not a Muslim, try to apply for a job at the US embassy in Cairo, you will wait and wait forever without a response, because - according to an embassy employee - your application will be shredded in pieces and thrown in the garbage by the director of the embassy HR, who is a veiled fanatic Muslim woman.

Over the past few years, the number of Coptic employees at the US embassy in Cairo has declined significantly, while the number of Muslim employees has increased significantly. And according to visa applicants, who are Copts, embassy consular officers sometimes ask if they are going to the US to talk about the Muslim persecution of Christians in Egypt!

It happened again this month. Some Coptic applicants for a visa were asked if they had intended to go to the United States in order to talk about the persecution of Christians in Egypt! They were then denied the visa. (The name of these individuals and the details on these incident are available upon request).


If the US has declared a war on terror, it ought to look into its own backyards, and at its gates overseas. We believe that an investigation is long overdue over the behavior of some ‘fanatical’ and “extremist” employees at the US embassies overseas. How do such individuals pass a background check?!
Many Copts are concerned that “While attempting to placate Muslims, Coptic Christians might be getting victimized in the process”
Please e-mail the US embassy in Egypt and demand an explanation to these serious allegations, their e-mail is

Images from the Coptic Rally in the Netherlands

The rally took place on November 12, 2005
Slogan of the rally was "Peace is the answer" in response to to the Muslim Brotherhood's slogan that claims "Islam is the answer"


صور من تظاهرة الأقباط فى هولندا تحت شعار "السلام هو الحل" ردا على شعار الإخوان الارهابيون القائل الإسلام هو الحل"

US Lawmakers Call on Egypt to Protect Christian Copts

By Deborah Tate
Capitol Hill
Tate report - Download 439k
Listen to Tate report


U.S. lawmakers are warning Egypt that their support for foreign aid to that country will depend on the Egyptian government doing more to protect the rights of Christian Copts.

Members of Congress called a news conference Wednesday to express concern that the Egyptian government is not doing enough to prevent violence against the country's Christian Copts.

Last month, violence broke out in the northern city of Alexandria after rumors spread that a Coptic Christian church was distributing video recordings of a two-year-old theater performance that Muslims said insulted Islam. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to respond to the incident, which left three people dead.

Congressman Frank Wolf, a Virginia Republican, says Egyptian officials have been at best lax and, at worst, criminally negligent in the October 21st riots. He says it is part of a disturbing trend.

"Egypt's Copts are being pressed from all sides, as we can see from the reports coming out of Egypt," said Mr. Wolf. "They face a hostile state media, which is at times virulent in its anti-Semitic and anti-Copt rhetoric. They face growing hostility as a minority population, and they face a government that is savvy in its rhetoric to appease the international community, but continues to engage in outright persecution and more subtle forms of discrimination and harassment."

Other lawmakers cited an increase in attacks on the Copts' churches, property and businesses, as well as reports of abductions of young Coptic girls with the aim of forcing them to convert to Islam.

Egypt is the second largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid. Some lawmakers are considering linking that assistance with improvements in Egypt's record on human rights and, in particular, religious freedom.

Senator Sam Brownback is a Kansas Republican.

We are going to start looking at the issue of religious freedom in Egypt in context of our overall relationship, including that of foreign aid with Egypt," said Mr. Brownback. "We have not pressed this issue as much in the past as I believe we should have. We are going to press it much more in the future because the progress is not being made. Indeed, it is getting worse."

Congressman Tom Tancredo, a Colorado Republican, echoed the comments.

I for one have been a strong supporter of Egypt. I have supported every request for aid in terms of foreign aid package that we put together every year on the House side," he said. "I will continue to do so based a lot upon what happens here, in terms of the way this issue is dealt with in Egypt and in terms of the way the Egyptian government takes this up."

The news conference came on the same day that Egyptian voters went to the polls in the first round of Egypt's parliamentary election.

Senator Brownback says Egypt cannot have true democracy without religious freedom.

As Egypt seeks, as I believe it does, to grow and improve democratically and with human rights, one of the very basic foundational issues will be the degree of religious freedom in their society, the degree to which people can practice their faith, seek their God without fear or repercussion. Unfortunately that is not yet the situation in Egypt today," he added.

Senator Brownback is chairman of the Helsinki Commission, a U.S. government agency that monitors progress in the implementation of the provisions of the 1975 Helsinki Accords.