The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights
Human Rights Activists Warn Against Exaggerated Concerns about Religious Persecutions in Egypt
16 February 1999At the request of Dr. Robert Seiple, special representative of the Secretary of State for Religious Freedom in the United States of America, a meeting was held today, 16 February 1999, between him and three human rights activists: Negad El-Borai, Director of the Group for Democratic Development, Hafez Abu Seada, Secretary General of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, and Mohamed Zari, Director of the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners. The purpose of the meeting was to explain the American views on the objectives of the American law on the protection of religious freedom and its application mechanisms. Dr. Seiple made a presentation of the law, which is meant to be no more than an assertion of the human rights principles stipulated in international standards. He also affirmed that the main aim of the law is to provide religious protection for all minorities throughout the world, including Muslims in Western countries. It aims to guarantee religious freedom for all religions without discrimination. The law also makes a substantial distinction between discrimination and persecution, and provides a gradual system of punishments. He added that it does not, by any means, affect the humanitarian aid provided by the US to several countries. The three mentioned activists expressed their fears that the law would be used to realize limited political aims, and asserted that the political use of moral issues such as human rights has actually damaged not only the credibility of the US, but also the public opinion's perception of those issues in Egypt, and in countries all over the world. Although the three activists admitted the existence of human rights violations in Egypt, they absolutely denied the occurrence of violations on the basis of religion. They clarified that there are only administrative excesses committed by individual members of the police, which find good ground in the failure of the Public Prosecution to refer those involved to court and announce the results to the public opinion. The incidents that took place in the village of Al-Kosheh, in Suhag, were also raised during the meeting. The EOHR secretary general asserted that these incidents did not imply violations on religious grounds, and that the random arrests and torture of citizens are policies used by the Egyptian police to extract information form suspects, whatever their identity or religion may be. He added that two weeks before the incidents of Al-Kosheh, the EOHR had issued a report on collective violations committed by the police in five Egyptian villages, and the victims of these violations included no Copts. Dr Seiple pointed out that he had met with Egyptian officials and public figures who agreed in general with this point of view. The director of the Human Rights Center for the Assistance of Prisoners stated that his center had not monitored the existence of one single Copt among the sixteen thousand prisoners who are currently detained by virtue of the emergency law. The three activists warned that an exaggerated concern for religious freedoms to the detriment of the need to ameliorate the conditions of Egyptian citizens in general, would only lead to the seclusion of Egyptian Copts from the issues of their society and cause them to look as if they live under foreign protection. This would expose them to greater dangers. The three activists also asserted that despite the important role played by the international community through non-governmental organizations and the United Nations in the protection and reinforcement of human rights all throughout the world, individual interventions by states and governments in such sensitive issues might raise doubts about the credibility of the human rights movement and its principles.
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