|A Washington Times Editorial
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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