THE 2013 USCIRF (U.S. COMMISSION ON INTERNATIONAL RELIGIOUS FREEDOM) REPORT ON EGYPT’S STATUS OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM
Figure 1: Egypt is designated Country of Particular Concern (CPC) by the U.S. for its severe violation of the religious freedom of the Copts and other religious minorities.
Egypt again is designated by the US as Country of Particular Concern for its systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of the religious freedom of Copts and other minorities. But don’t hold your breath!
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has published its 2013 report on the status of religious freedom across the world. To whom who don’t know the USCIRF yet, it is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission created by the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998 (IRFA), which was enacted by the U.S. Congress. Its principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State, and the Congress.
The USCIRF publishes an annual report on 1 May each year. Part of the mechanisms it uses to advance international religious freedom is naming and shaming “those governments that have engaged in or tolerated ‘particularly severe’ violations of religious freedom”. These are called Countries of Particular Concern (CPCs). The IRFA defines “particularly severe” violations as ones that are “systematic, ongoing, and egregious,” including acts such as torture, prolonged detention without charges, disappearances, or “other flagrant denial[s] of the right to life, liberty, or the security of persons.” And this year the USCIRF has recommended that the Secretary of State designate Egypt as a CPC, thus joining the 15-countries “honour” list of Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Uzbekistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam. Egypt has been designated CPC because, “during a February 2013 visit to Egypt, USCIRF found that the Egyptian government continued to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.”
The USCIRF recommendations for U.S. Policy, in addition to designating Egypt a CPC, include the following:
The U.S. government should:
Not certify the disbursement of the appropriated $1.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing (FMF) until the Egyptian government demonstrates that it is using FMF funds to implement policies that protect freedom of religion and related human rights; once the government so demonstrates, ensure that a portion of the funding is used to help the police implement an effective plan for dedicated police protection for religious minority communities and their places of worship;
Urge the Egyptian government to bring the new constitution in line with the internationally-recognized standards for freedom of religion and belief;
Press the transitional Egyptian government to undertake immediate reforms to improve religious freedom conditions, including repealing decrees banning religious minority faiths, removing religion from official identity documents, and passing a law for the construction and repair of places of worship;
Press the Egyptian government to prosecute perpetrators of sectarian violence, including creating a special unit in the Office of the Public Prosecutor; and
Press the Egyptian government to ensure that responsibility for religious affairs is not placed under the jurisdiction of the new domestic security agency.
The U.S. Congress should:
Require the Departments of State to report every 90 days on the transitional government’s progress on issues including compliance with international human rights standards–including freedom of religion or belief, protection of religious minorities, and the prosecution of perpetrators of sectarian violence, as well as on the U.S. government’s progress in directly funding Egyptian NGOs without prior Egyptian government approval.
The Copts, and other religious minorities in Egypt, must be advised not to raise their expectations and to understand that this is not the first time that Egypt is designated CPC. The first time it happened was in 2012. The IRFA sates that:
After a country is designated a CPC, the President is required by law to take one or more of the actions specified in IRFA, or to invoke a waiver if circumstances warrant.
In 2012 President Obama invoked a waiver in regards to Egypt’s systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of religious freedom citing the strategic importance of Egypt to the U.S. We will have to wait for the States Department’s own report and response to the USCIRF’s 2013 report, and see what Obama will do.