Persecuting
Egypt's Christians
A Washington Times Editorial
11/4/98
A dangerous intermediary has been added to the already 
challenging peace process in the Middle East: President Mubarak 
of Egypt. President Clinton sees him as a key player in 
negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. And well he 
might be. But he would have more credibility in that role if he 
hadn't turned his back on threats to peace and human rights in his 
own country. Over the past three years, and in the past two months 
especially, the Cairo government has turned a blind eye to the 
persecution of Coptic Christians, a group that traces its heritage to 
the first century and makes up around 6 percent of Egypt's 
population of 65 million.

Since two Christians were killed, reportedly by five Muslims, on 
Aug. 14, around 1,200 Christians from the Al-Kosheh region near 
Luxor in Upper Egypt have been arrested and many of them 
tortured, according to the Egyptian Organization for Human 
Rights.

The Egyptian government seems to be doing its best to stifle 
reports about the persecution. On Friday, Moris Sadek, the human 
rights lawyer who helped get the story to the outside world, was 
informed that he would be criminally charged under Article 186 of 
the Egyptian penal code for disturbing the national peace and 
fermenting sectarianism, Josef Hassad of Freedom House told The 
Washington Times' editorial page.

President Mubarak said the allegations of torture were false and 
that Copts enjoy all the rights that Muslims do. The Egyptian 
senate also said any news account about Muslim discrimination 
against Copts was false.

But for a country where there are supposedly no human rights 
violations going on, far too many people aren't being allowed to 
tell their stories. Mr. Sadek wasn't the first. The arrests began Aug. 
15, when Christians in the region expressed outrage at the killings, 
which the police claimed had been committed by other Christians. 
Bishop Anba Wissa, the Coptic spiritual leader of the El-Baliana 
region, and his priests made official complaints Aug. 19 and 20 to 
Lt. Said, a Secret Police inspector; to the governor of the Sohag 
District; and to the chief of the Department of Security. The police 
chief told them that the persecution would get worse as a result of 
the complaints, according to a letter from Bishop Wissa obtained 
by The Washington Times.

The local government continued rounding up the Christians, 
including men, women and children in groups of 50 to 60 at a 
time. They were tied to doors and beaten, and women and children 
were tortured with electric shock devices to all parts of their 
bodies, according to the letter from Bishop Wissa. One 11-year-old 
boy, Roman Boctor, was hung upside down from an electric 
ceiling fan and tortured as the fan rotated. Police attempted to rape 
his 14-year-old sister, Hania, at the police station but her screams 
drew a crowd and the police stopped.

The bishop and two of his priests were arrested Oct. 10 on charges 
of damaging national unity and insulting the government, crimes 
that can be punished by death. Three Christians -- the father and 
two brothers of Roman and Hania Boctor -- were also imprisoned 
but later were released after a visit by an Interior Ministry official.

But in a letter written in response to a protest by Reps. Joseph Pitts 
and Tony Hall, Egyptian Ambassador Ahmed Maher El Sayed said 
Bishop Wissa had escalated the incident by faxing false 
information to human rights groups. They also referred to him as 
"known for his religious views and previous record in stirring 
sectarianism." That's not how the Cairo-based Egyptian 
Organization for Human Rights sees it. The independent 
organization determined after an investigation in the town that his 
stories were true, and even upgraded the number of estimated 
arrests from Bishop Wissa's 1,000 to 1,200.

Senior presidential adviser Osama El Baz also wrote off the 
incident, claiming that the doings in Al-Kosheh are a local 
criminal matter and do not reflect any wider problem between the 
Muslims and Christians of Egypt, according to an Oct. 15 Boston 
Globe article.

But in the past three years, the Egyptian media alone have reported 
40 Christians killed by Muslim extremists for failing to pay 
protection money, and in 1997 there were 500 to 600 Christian 
girls forced to convert to Islam, according to reports from a top 
Egyptian religious leader. Hafez Abo-Seada, director of the 
Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, says the problems reach 
beyond conflicts between the two religions. The violations of 
human rights by the police and security forces in Egypt are a 
national problem, not just a Christian one, he said in a Boston 
Globe interview.

Whether this problem is limited to a region or the whole country, 
it's got the Egyptians covering up. Mustafa Raslan, a famous 
Egyptian lawyer who often defends cases against Islam, sued The 
Sunday Telegraph for $167 million for its coverage of the story, 
and government officials are writing the issue off as a localized 
incident.

The U.S. gives $2 billion a year to Egypt, which ought to give us 
some leverage over Cairo's inaction on this very serious matter. 
With 29 members of the U.S. House now protesting the Egyptian 
human rights violations and waiting for an explanation, and many 
world newspapers doing the same, this assault on human rights can 
no longer be written off as an insignificant incident. It's time Mr. 
Clinton reevaluated his latest peace partner.


Copyright  1998 News World Communications, Inc.


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