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US Urged to Do More for Jailed Egyptian Christians

ICC Note

Egypt is the second largest recipient of American aid. The United States , therefore, has sway over Egypt . As this article makes it clear now is the time to use its influence to secure the release of Christians imprisoned by Egyptian authorities.

By Julie Stahl

September 07, 2007Egypt (CNSNews.com) – The U.S. should be using its influence with Egypt to obtain the release of two Egyptian Christians, human rights groups said. The two were arrested last month for investigating the death of a third Christian who may have been murdered by Egyptian police.
The arrests are seen by human rights groups as symptomatic of a larger religious freedom problem in Egypt , a country in which the U.S. has invested heavily, ostensibly to promote the spread of democracy.
Dr. Adel Fawzy Faltas and Peter Ezzat Mounir, who work for the Canadian-based religious freedom group Middle East Christian Association (MECA), were arrested by the Egyptian state security officials in early August. Their office was raided and computers and books confiscated.
The two reportedly were accused of posting anti-Islamic comments on the Internet, insulting Islam, jeopardizing state security and preaching Christianity.
Nader Fawzy, president of Middle East Christian Alliance (which describes its mission as fighting for the right to life, freedom of expression and equality for Christians in the Middle East), said on Thursday that the government had decided this week to detain the two for another 15 days — no reason given.
Fawzy believes that his colleagues were arrested partly because of a book he co-authored entitled “The Persecuted.”
The book details Christian persecution in Egypt , including cases of kidnap, rape, murder and church burning, Fawzy told Cybercast News Service in a telephone interview. The authors also charge that the government is trying Islamicize Egypt .
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The book was first published in November in English and was released in Arabic three months ago. That’s when his colleagues started having trouble, Fawzy said.
In the give months since MECA opened its office in Cairo , the organization has been involved in a number of highly controversial cases intended to push for the rights of Christians.
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The day before their arrests, Faltas and Mounir were gathering evidence at the home of another Coptic Christian, who complained that police were trying to extort money from him. When police arrived at man’s home to force him to withdraw his complaint, he refused and they subsequently threw him off the balcony to his death in front of witnesses, reports said.
The Egyptian-born Fawzy said that he has been invited to return to Egypt to negotiate for the release of his workers but he said he is afraid to go.
“It would be my last trip,” said Fawzy. “They’d kill me. They’d make it look like an accident.”
Although Fawzy is a Canadian citizen, he said he wants to see the U.S. get more involved in pressing for freedom because it has more clout with Egypt than Canada does.
The U.S. is always talking about freedom, said Fawzy. They could prove that they care about freedom by getting the Egyptian government to release the two men, he said.
Kathryn Cameron Porter, president of the Washington-based Leadership Council for Human Rights, said she also is frustrated by what she sees as her own government’s apathy toward Faltas and Mounir’s case as well as the wider issue of human rights abuses in Egypt .
U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Francis J. Ricciardone said that the U.S. was closely following cases involving religious freedom in Egypt as well as pressing the Egyptian government “to advance the cause of religious freedom in Egypt .”
In a letter to Porter, the ambassador promised that he would cite the cases of Faltas and Mounir in upcoming reports on human rights and religious freedom.
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“These men — their lives are at stake,” said Porter. Porter blasted what she called “bureaucratic games” in Washington .
“We cannot continue to stand up for a regime that is oppressing and [in some cases] killing people,” said Porter. “It is time for the U.S. to stand up. The time for pretending is over.”
In July, Porter was invited to address a House Foreign Affairs Committee panel on human rights.
In her on the record testimony, Porter charged that U.S. foreign policy in Egypt was “whitewashing” human rights abuses in order “to protect our allies from criticism.”
“We have witnessed attempts by the U.S. government to deliberately obfuscate the truth about human rights in Egypt ,” said Porter.
Egyptian citizens, and particularly minorities, are suffering, she said.
“The Coptic Christians, Egypt ‘s largest ethno-religious minority, are restricted from worshipping freely and face ongoing discrimination and harassment by the Egyptian government.
“For those who convert to Christianity, they either go into hiding or risk death,” Porter testified. “Forced conversion of Coptic girls to Islam is aided and abetted by agents of the state. Women are in danger of acid attacks for wearing crosses and not veiling, and churchgoers are targeted for stabbings, simply because of their faith. Historically, the Egyptian government has done nothing to protect them,” she said.
Bahais, Bedouins and even young people in general are discriminated against, said Porter.
Porter charges that the human rights violations are allowed to continue because the U.S. is intent on propping up Mubarak’s regime.
She wants to see the U.S. make aid to Egypt conditional on its human rights performance.
In June, the House of Representatives conditioned $200 million of foreign military aid to Egypt on Cairo ‘s taking action to stop Palestinian weapons smuggling into the Gaza Strip, guarding the independence of the Egyptian judiciary and curbing police abuses.
The sum represents about 15 percent of the $1.3 billion annual U.S. military aid to Egypt .
Porter called the move a “symbolic gesture” but said it is a “tangible way” for members of Congress to show Mubarak that the U.S. is serious about making human rights a central tenant of its foreign policy.
Other human rights and religious freedom groups also have complained to the U.S. government for years about Egypt .
The U.S.-based Center for Religious Freedom, now part of the Hudson Institute, has called on the government to tie aid to Egypt on its performance on religious freedom and freedom of speech.
The State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2006 said there was no “significant change” in Egypt ‘s “respect for religious freedom.” In 2005, the report said that while there had been improvements in the Egyptian government’s “respect for religious freedom” there “continued to be abuses and restrictions.”

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