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April 28, 2011

The USCIRF Annual Report, 2011, in which Egypt is designated CPC for the first time

COPTIC NATIONALISM welcomes the classification of Egypt as a Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) in its Annual Report that has been published today, 28 April 2011. Egypt has failed before the 25 January 2011 Revolution, and after it, in its national and international commitments to protect the natural rights of its Copts, who amount to over 10 million of its citizens.

In its Press Release (28 April 2011) the USCIRF explains what is a CPC and why Egypt has been designated for the first time a CPC:

CPCs are nations whose conduct marks them as the world’s worst religious freedom violators and human rights abusers…In the case of Egypt, instances of severe religious freedom violations engaged in or tolerated by the government have increased dramatically since the release of last year’s report, with violence, including murder, escalating against Coptic Christians and other religious minorities. Since President Mubarak’s resignation from office in February, such violence continues unabated without the government’s bringing the perpetrators to justice.  Consequently, USCIRF recommends CPC designation for Egypt.

The Report is not an activity in academia – it is a Report designed to help the US policy makers identify those countries that have the worst religious freedom record. Where non-economic policy options designed to bring about cessation of the particularly severe violations of religious freedom have reasonably been exhausted, an economic measure generally must be imposed, according to the US Department of State.

The Coptic Nationalists support the addition of Egypt to the list of CPCs. Since 1971 Copts have experienced a series of repeated violations of their religious liberty, and despite many deputations, and requests to the political leadership of Egypt – whether ex-presidents Muhammad Anwar al-Sadat and Muhammad Husni Mubarak, or its post-25 January Revolution government, represented in Muhammad Hussain Tantawi, Head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and Dr. Essam Sharaf, the Prime Minister – all have fallen on deaf ears. It is clear that these failed leaders have the interests of the Islamists first. The Coptic Nationalists regret that Egypt has joined notorious countries for their religious freedom record, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Sudan, Nigeria, Iran and Iraq. We have, together with many Moderate Muslims in Egypt, tried to avoid Egypt being added to such a list, and had hoped that Egypt’s political leadership would act on its own to improve the plight of the Copts, but, alas, no one heeded the message.

Now it is the time for Tantawi and Sharaf to act, and to act NOW.

Leonard Leo, Chairman of USCIRF

Leonard Leo, Chairman of USCIRF, in his Opening Remarks, talks about the three kinds of violations, or themes, that his Commission has observed in the 2011 Annual Report:

When it comes to religious freedom, there are three main kinds of violations our Commission has observed and documented in this Report.

First, there is state hostility toward religion, religious communities and/or religious leadership.

Second, there is state sponsorship of extremist ideology and education.

And third, there is state failure to prevent and punish religious freedom violations.

State hostility involves active persecution of dissenting religious believers. State sponsorship involves active promotion, including exportation, of radical ideas and propaganda against these or other believers. State failure involves neglecting to take action necessary to protect them against other citizens who threaten them because of their differing beliefs.

Another word for a state’s failure to protect is impunity. It is impunity that especially concerns this Commission, because it receives the least attention at precisely the time that it is growing tremendously.

Coptic Nationalism can cite plenty of examples to show that Egypt has failed miserably on the three  counts – the Egyptian State has shown hostility towards the Copts; sponsored extreme ideology and education; failed to prevent and punish religious freedom violations.

On Egypt, Leonard Leo says in his Opening Remarks:

It is partly because of our concern about impunity that today, for the first time, we are recommending that Egypt be designated a CPC. We are acutely aware that the success of Egypt’s current political transition depends on its full respect for the rule of law, including respect for fundamental human rights, of which religious freedom is critical.

According to our findings, the Egyptian government engaged in and tolerated religious freedom violations both before and after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down on February 11 of this year. In his waning months, religious freedom conditions were rapidly deteriorating, and since his departure, we’ve seen nothing to indicate that these conditions have improved.

This is especially true on the impunity front, where attacks on religious minorities, particularly Coptic Christians, but also disfavored Muslims, have risen. The severe level of violence and the failure to convict those responsible – including two of the three alleged perpetrators in last year’s Naga Hammadi murders – continued to foster a climate of impunity, making more violence likely.

Despite the transitional government’s initial efforts to dismantle the repressive state security apparatus, Egypt’s state of emergency remains and laws and practices that discriminate continue to hinder religious freedom. Since February 11, military and security forces have allegedly used excessive force, including live ammunition, against Christian demonstrators and churches.

Then he advises the US government on how to pressurise Egypt to improve the Coptic situation:

As part of a CPC designation, USCIRF recommends that the U.S. use some of the money it gives Egypt for military assistance to enhance physical protection for Copts and other religious minorities and their places of worship. The U.S government should also provide more aid to organizations promoting democracy and governance training, as well as for civil society groups promoting human rights and religious freedom reforms.

These recommendations are particularly welcomed by Coptic Nationalism. We must not hide the fact that this is political pressure imposed on Egypt’s political leadership: it is meant to induce Egypt, which is considered a friend of the US, to abide by international standards in human rights, and to earn its position in the civilised international community. And the Copts cannot be blamed for seeking international intervention to improve their plight – the people who shoulder the blame, fairly and squarely, are Egypt’s failed political leadership, which could have protected the Copts’ natural rights and saved Egypt’s reputation, but have chosen not to. History will judge these politicians severely as miserable failures – but the present leadership has still some opportunity to reverse its previous policies, and save Egypt from the grasp of the Islamists and the Islamist ideology that threatens Egypt’s Copts and Moderate Muslims alike.

Nina Shea, one of USCIRF Commissioners. Has worked hard for the Copts. This is a special expression of gratitude

For more on this, go to:

The Website of USCIRF

USCIRF Press Release (28 April 2011)

 Opening Remarks by the Chairman of USCIRF, Leonard Leo

The USCIRF full Annual Report 2011

Media coverage of the USCIRF Report by the end of 28 April 2011

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