Christians being 'targeted' in Egypt


A UK Coptic Orthodox leader was in Washington DC on Tuesday to give evidence about the discrimination being experienced by minority religious groups in Egypt.

Bishop Angaelos, a General Bishop in the Coptic Orthodox Church in the UK, spoke alongside four other witnesses before the House Committee of Foreign Affairs at a Congressional hearing highlighting the escalation of human rights abuses in Egypt.

The timeliness of the hearing was noted as yesterday marked International Human Rights Day and Bishop Angaelos labelled it "providential" that the committee happened to be meeting on that day.

Alongside Zudhi Jasser, Mr Samuel Tadros, Morad abou-Sabe and Mr Tad Stahnke, the bishop discussed concerns about the "culture of impunity that has led to a lack of equality" in Egypt, as minority religious groups suffer abhorrently at the hands of rebels and the government.

Coptic Christians in particular are frequently subjected to violent attacks as a result of their faith in the north African nation, which is currently struggling with a weakened and unstable political system.

Congressman Chris Smith, who chaired the hearing, noted that following the resignation of President Mubarak in February 2011, Egyptians and the world had hoped for a "new Egypt" that would not repeat his mistakes, but the "reality has been just the opposite".

Smith said that the persecution of Christians has taken place under each of the post-Mubarak governments.

"For some of these abuses, the governments bear the responsibility of inaction. For others they bear direct responsibility," he said.

"In recent months, undercurrents of abuse and contempt for human dignity long existing in Egypt have turned into flash floods of violence.

"We are witnessing escalating violence against minority communities in Egypt. Christians are being targeted while the rest of the world, including the United States, watches on.

"The most basic human rights are being denied, we can never rest until human dignity is restored."

The witnesses called for steps to be taken towards the establishment of a free, equal and democratic society in Egypt.

"Above all we stand as Christians for human rights for all, and for equality and for a law that respects every person and brings out the best of every person," Bishop Angaelos declared.

A new Egyptian constitution is currently being drawn up by the nation's government, and Congressman Smith took the opportunity to note that it "must protect everyone's human rights", including those of women and those with religious beliefs.

Human rights groups are urging the US government to implement a major shift in policy toward Egypt that is rooted in respect for human rights and standardised policies on the freedom of religious belief.

This statement was echoed by many on the panel. Congressman Weber noted that unless specific policies were put in place to protect the most vulnerable against abuses of human rights, then "we are nothing more than a clanging gong or a tinkling symbol".

"We must hold people to account, express our concern, our love and our intent to put an end to human rights violations across the world and in Egypt," he said.

Congressman Meadows expressed the importance of protecting innocent people, regardless of the effect that it may have on trade with Egypt.

"For those that are persecuted that do not have a voice it is critical that we use this not to ignore human rights abuses in favour of economic stability; let's tie those together," he said.

"I am alarmed by the dwindling number of Christian across the Middle East. Christianity is not new to the Middle East and we must not forget the ancient communities that have lived and thrived there for thousands of years."

Tad Stahnke agreed, arguing that loans and trade between the US and Egypt need to be conditional on the upholding of human rights standards.

The committee heard concerns about the division of Egypt as a result of increased persecution of religious minorities over the past few decades, and spoke of the need to challenge the Egyptian government to recognise the full freedom of religion as a fundamental human right.

"The persecution of religious minorities over the past decades has not manifested itself solely in physical attacks, but has frequently been embedded in process and policy, then translated into dealings with citizens on unequal grounds, inevitably having resulted in greater division and marginalisation," Bishop Angaelos noted in his address.

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