5/27/2021 Cairo – (International Christian Concern) In a May 26th meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, US Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken expressed the importance of human rights at a crucial time for religious freedom in the country. While reinforcing the partnership between Egypt and the United States, the two agreed to constructively discuss the promotion and protection of human rights for all Egyptians. However, given Egypt’s fraught relationship with human rights and religious freedom, it remains to be seen whether Secretary Blinken’s recommendations will result in progress.
Despite generally healthy diplomatic relations between the United States and Egypt, recent years have seen a concerning rise in violations against religious freedom in the country. In its 2021 Annual Report, the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recommended that Egypt be placed on the State Department’s Special Watch List for countries whose governments “engage or tolerate severe violations of religious freedom”. For the last four years, Egypt has been in a state of national emergency, initially declared in response to two ISIS-credited suicide bombings of Coptic Christian churches in 2017, but later extended during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this emergency has amplified fears that the government is taking advantage of national tragedy to unjustly detain dissidents and search homes without warrants.
Attacks on Coptic Christians by sectarian mobs plague rural areas of Egypt, while the Egyptian government is incrementally increasing its crackdown on the religious freedom of Christians in the country. Egypt’s blasphemy law is one of the world’s most restrictive, and its implementation has resulted in some of the highest rates of blasphemy-related imprisonment and prosecutions in the world. The law also disproportionally affects religious minorities in Egypt, such as Coptic Christians and nonbelievers. Many of these arrests have been related to governmental monitoring of social media, bringing about grave concerns regarding privacy rights in Egypt.
The Egyptian government has further exemplified its lack of commitment to universally protecting human rights with the frequent detainment of religious activists. In November of 2020, three Egyptian activists were unjustly detained and stripped of their personal assets after speaking with an international envoy about human rights violations in the country, according to USCIRF. An even more pressing example is that of Coptic Christian activist Ramy Kamel, who has been held in prison without trial since being accused of spreading false information on social media and joining a terrorist group. Despite little to no evidence surrounding the charges brought against him, Kamel has been subject to horrific violations of his human rights and dignity, such as over a year in solitary confinement, torture, malnutrition, and potential exposure to COVID-19. Demands for Kamel’s release from the international community and USCIRF have failed to trigger a response from the Egyptian government as his health rapidly deteriorates.
While Secretary Blinken’s meeting with President Al-Sisi provides a glimmer of hope for human rights in Egypt, the country’s failure to protect its religious minorities suggests that much work is left to be done. Though Egypt has done well in its diplomatic efforts to promote peace in the region, such as its recent mediation of a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza, the United States must not turn a blind eye towards minority Egyptians for the sake of appeasing the Egyptian government.
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