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Human Rights Activists Warn Against Exaggerated Concerns about Religious Persecutions in Egypt

16 February 1999

At 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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This document is published online by Derechos Human Rights. Derechos works against violations to human rights and humanitarian law all over the world.