By Cassandra Novick
Lawmakers on the congressional Helsinki Commission spent several hours Wednesday delving into reports of increasing violence toward Coptic Christian women and children in Egypt.
Rep. Chris Smith (R-N.J.) decried “the outrageous crimes of abduction, forced conversion, and forced marriage, which the Egyptian government is doing all too little to prevent.”
The new Egyptian President, Mohamed Morsi, communicated his vision for a unified Egypt in his first speech as President.
In an English translation provided by the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood, President Morsi said, “Together we will plot a brighter future for our children and grandchildren, Muslims and Christians, so Egypt would once again be strong and proud, so it would achieve the remaining objectives of its revolution, and so we together would attain freedom, justice and human dignity.”
This vision, as noted by Smith, is being tarnished by the increasing violence toward Coptic women and children.
“Alarmingly, since the revolution, cases of reported disappearances have increased, while recovery of the women and girls have decreased,” Smith said.
The witnesses in attendance at the Helsinki Commission stressed that these accounts of abduction, drugging, abuse, and forced conversion/marriage are not alleged occurrences but consistent, documented offenses against the Coptic community that need to be addressed in a public forum, not through singular representatives of state or government controlled media.
A striking, moving example of these offenses being more the allegations, was a Coptic female victim’s firsthand account of her assault, near abduction, and resulting miscarriage. The victim, whose identity was concealed for security purposes, sought asylum in the United States after the incident.
Witnesses Michele A. Clark and Dr. Walid Phares, testified and provided recommendations to the Egyptian government, the US Government, Coptic Church, and International Community on how to handle the growing violence to Coptic Women a Children.
These recommendations included the cessation of US military aid to Egypt.
Smith quoted the words on a sign of a Coptic protester in Egypt, “Obama, don’t send your dollars to Jihadists.” This sign exemplified to Smith how Coptic demonstrators and Congress alike are frustrated with the continued flow of US aid to Egypt despite the continued violence and suppression of religious freedom.
“On the basis of America’s national security interest, [Head of State, Hillary Clinton] will waive legislative conditions related to Egypt’s democratic transition,” reported Smith, citing an unnamed senior State Department official’s interview with Reuters.
This means $1.3 billion in aid will be released to Egypt despite not making improvements in religious freedom, as required by the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act.
Overall, Smith advocated for greater attention as well as action on the part of the international community and Egypt to protect the right to religious freedom.