Last week, I attended the Coptic solidarity conference in Washington, D.C. The title of the two-day long conference was “Egypt’s Copts: Prospects of Equality in a Radicalized Society.” The conference was appropriately scheduled in time for this week, which is Religious Freedom Week, and those in attendance came from all backgrounds. There were Coptic Americans, government representatives, religious-freedom advocates, and civilians interested in learning about the status of Copts in Egyptian society — a society that is more often than not treating Copts as second-class citizens rather than as fellow Egyptians.
Here is a compilation of statements I gathered that best highlight the discrimination and quandaries Copts face today.
Elizabeth Prodromou, associate professor at Tufts University:
Asked about the terminology of “genocide” and Copts:
I oftentimes hear from policy makers who go throughout the region and hear ‘they emigrate,’ but they emigrate for a better life. Most people don’t want to leave where they’re from. People leave because they have no other choice. I think it’s important to underscore that point when talking about the Coptic community. If people are leaving it’s because the conditions at home are intolerable, precisely because of the institutionalized discrimination. If these trend lines continue, then we all know the outcome. Look at the number of Christians in Turkey, look at the number of Christians in the Holy Land, look at the number of Christians left in Iraq . . . That’s our lifetime that we’re possibly seeing the eradication of in Iraq. Just because there isn’t a pogrom or systematic violence we associate with genocide, it doesn’t mean the loss is not happening.
Alberto Fernandez, president, Middle East Broadcasting Networks:
It’s social hostility that’s much worse, in a way, than a hostile government. If something is embedded in society, it’s dangerous. Governments come and go.
Fernandez, asked about anti-American conspiracy theories in Egypt:
Egyptian media often sounds like you’re listening to Erdogan or Qatar, for a state supposedly against extremism. There’s a weaponization of media to promote a xenophobic mentality.
Sarah Yerkes, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace:
Copts are rarely appointed as mayors even where they populate, they’re discriminated against in universities. (The Egyptian government needs to) root out its culture of discrimination by teaching about all religions . . . There are successful deradicalization programs in other countries but there has to be political will to put them in place and I don’t think that’s there (in Egypt). Sisi is painted as secular but he’s actually very religious himself and sometimes that gets lost.”
Badhey Hassan, Cairo Institute for Human Rights:
(President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi) presents as a protector of Copts. He institutes unconstitutional laws and amendments. He consolidated his authority over branches of government such as the judiciary to unprecedented limits even in comparison to Nasser.
Former congressman Danial Donovan, (R., N.Y.):
Twenty-one martyrs were slaughtered (in Libya) because of their faith in 2015 . . . I have not lost my passion for the Coptic community and even though I’m not in Congress (anymore), I want to talk about how Congress can help you. This needs to be personal.
Yuval Carmon, founder & president of Middle East Media Research Institute:
What we see in the Middle East is an often bitter reality. It’s a renewed source of persecution and intolerance for its non-Muslim minorities. This is a disaster for humanity in general and the future prospects of the region . . . The West should encourage voices broadly like minded to our values. There are still Muslim reformers of goodwill who are courageously fighting this battle everyday, they are brace individuals who are far too often alone.
Kurt Werthmuller, policy analyst, U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom:
The concept of citizenship (for Copts) is crucial. It’s a drum we should beat incessantly . . . Egypt will never realize its full potential without recognizing the citizenship of its own people.
David Pollock, Bernstein Fellow at The Washington Institute:
The argument that we could have the Muslim Brotherhood (instead of President Sisi), is this actually better to have an authoritarian ruler than the Muslim Brotherhood? I have to say that personally, we have to acknowledge that we have to confront this argument.
French Hill (R., Ark.):
Having more than 50 co-sponsors for H.Res 49 [a bill that calls on the Egyptian government to change their treatment of Copts] from very diverse members of Congress is nothing to discount. But there’s a lot more work to be done. (This resolution in the House) has been seen by some as an attack on the Egyptian government of Sisi, I’d like to take the opportunity to stress that’s not the case. That’s not the point. I acknowledge and support our partnership with Egypt, but more can always be done by the way and means of protecting religious freedom and human rights . . . I will reference a new article published last week in National Reviewthat discusses the recent attacks on Christian Copts . . . it’s critical that President Sisi’s words be backed by actions . . . Coptic Christians in Egypt deserve equal treatment and accountability.