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Religious Freedom Not a US Priority for Allies Egypt and Saudi Arabia

Washington DC (November 23, 2009) – A hearing was recently held on Religious Freedom in the Middle East which exposed the failure of the State Department and President Obama to address Human Rights abuses in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

On November 18, Chairman, Gary L. Ackerman (D-NY), as well as other congress representatives, questioned the Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, Michael H. Posner, on the State of Political and Religious Freedom in the Middle East. It was evident that Egypt and Saudi Arabia, both close allies of the US, have not been pressured into compliance with international human rights laws.

Egypt, the world’s number two recipient of American aid, having received roughly $1.3 billion per year in military compensation and more than $500 million per year in economic assistance since 1979, blatantly violates international human rights laws without penalty. The responsibility for the sudden surge of persecution against Coptic Christians, an explicit assault on religious freedom, is deliberately dismissed by the Egyptian government. When Assistant Secretary Posner was asked if measures are being taken to ensure that Egypt is kept liable for its offenses, no strategic plan was presented. It was also concluded that America does not use its foreign assistance as leverage to demand that Egypt adhere to international human rights laws.

In the same way, Saudi Arabia, a government that denies recognition or protection of any religion other than Sunni Islam, and whose constitutional principles are founded on Sharia law, is not held accountable by the US for its human rights abuses.

When asked by Representative Ackerman if the US places any conditionality upon trade with Saudi Arabia or aid given to Egypt in regards to human rights offenses, Assistant Secretary Posner replied, “Has it been done? It’s been done in various ways and various places. Could it be done more? Yes. Should it be done more? Yes.”

Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager of the Middle East, said, “The development of a strategic plan to address the fundamental democratic principles of religious freedom has not been a top priority of the US government toward Egypt for years. The US is a light to democratic values, and must take the lead in promoting and exporting democratic principles to countries that violate human rights laws. We ask President Obama to establish a strategic plan by applying human rights sanctions on US assistance to Egypt and US dealings with Saudi Arabia, to nominate a Religious Freedom Ambassador, and to affirm human rights as a core objective of US foreign policy.”