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US Congress Holds Hearing on Human Rights Abuses in Egypt

09/11/2020 Washington, D.C. (International Christian Concern) – On Wednesday, September 9, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee held a hearing on the trends of politics, economics, and human rights in Egypt. The hearing featured two panels of human rights advocates and academics that painted a grim picture for the state of religious freedom for Egyptians.

The first panel included Director and Co-Founder of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies Bahey eldin Hassan, as well as President and Co-Founder of The Freedom Initiative Mohammed Soltan. Both Egyptians themselves, Hassan and Soltan outlined their experiences with the Egyptian government. Hassan testified regarding Egypt’s jailing of several human rights defenders who had tried to speak out against the government’s actions. On the other side, Soltan, a former political prisoner himself, expanded upon his time as a victim of the regime’s abuses.

The second panel highlighted a broader perspective of the Egyptian government from a geopolitical viewpoint. All four panelists condemned Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for human rights abuses and provided commentary on how the United States should approach US-Egyptian relations. Despite these abuses, the speakers emphasized the importance of the American alliance with Egypt in a relatively unstable region. Samuel Tadros, Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, provided insight for moving forward with Egypt. “A readjustment of the relationship is vital,” he testified, “[and] that readjustment must begin by acknowledging the mistakes of the previous decades.”

International Christian Concern has documented the ongoing abuses of President Sisi’s government against Christians in Egypt. In one case in particular, a Coptic Christian named Abd Adel Bebawy was sentenced to three years in prison under an Egyptian blasphemy law for a Facebook post allegedly insulting Islam. After his arrest, a mob of extremist Muslims attacked the homes of several Christians in his village, displacing Bebawy’s family. Although he was due to be released from prison in January, Bebawy remains incarcerated.

Unfortunately, such discrimination against Christians is common in Egypt. Due to blasphemy laws and mob violence, exemplified in the case of Bebawy, Christians are unable to speak about their faith in public without fear of repercussions. Additionally, the Egyptian parliament passed a church building law in 2016 making it “nearly impossible” to construct a new church in Egypt, according to Mr. Tadros’ testimony.

In addition to its transgressions on the religious freedom of Egyptian citizens, Sisi’s government also has a well-documented track record on suppressing dissent. In his testimony, Mr. Soltan outlined the Egyptian government’s attempts to suppress his reporting of protests in the country and his advocacy for human rights in Egypt. After Mr. Soltan’s last testimony in Congress, the Egyptian government imprisoned his father for 38 days, during which he was beaten and tortured.

This case is unfortunately not unique, as advocates trying to expose human rights abuses in Egypt have been jailed on numerous occasions. One example in the Christian community is a Coptic activist named Ramy Kamel, who was jailed in 2019 for highlighting the hypocrisy of the Egyptian government that persecutes Copts while claiming it protects religious minorities.

In his own remarks during the hearing, Chairman Ted Deutch reemphasized the need for attention on this issue in Washington. “We must be clear about our commitment to human rights,” said Rep. Deutch, “regardless of who is in power in Egypt. The Egyptian government must take steps to conform to human rights standards we expect from United States partners and allies.”

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