U.S. black­list cites Egypt for re­li­gious op­pres­sion

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY ASHISH KU­MAR SEN

Egypt sys­tem­at­i­cally op­presses Chris­tians and mi­nor­ity Mus­lim sects, ac­cord­ing to a con­gres­sional com­mis­sion that placed a key U.S. ally in the Arab world on a black­list of na­tions that rou­tinely abuse re­li­gious lib­er­ties.

Egypt, for the first time, was des­ig­nated a “coun­try of par­tic­u­lar concern” for the “sys­tem­atic, on­go­ing and egre­gious vi­o­la­tions of re­li­gious free­dom,” the U.S. Com­mis­sion on In­ter­na­tional Re­li­gious Free­dom said in its an­nual re­port re­leased April 28.

The in­de­pen­dent, bi­par­ti­san com­mis­sion also noted that Pres­i­dent Obama has failed to add any coun­try it cited for re­li­gious in­tol­er­ance to a sep­a­rate black­list main­tained by the State Depart­ment.

Coun­tries on the State Depart­ment list face some level of eco­nomic sanc­tions.

“There is a prob­lem with the fail­ure to cite coun­tries, and then a fail­ure to take ac­tion when coun­tries are cited,” com­mis­sion Chair­man Leonard Leo told The Wash­ing­ton Times.

The com­mis­sion re­ported on 28 coun­tries with se­vere re­li­gious strife, cit­ing 14 as the most se­ri­ous abusers. The com­mis­sion in­cluded 11 on a low­er­level “watch list” of na­tions with lesser de­grees of re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion and three oth­ers where con­di­tions are closely mon­i­tored.

Some coun­tries were cited for of­fi­cial per­se­cu­tion of re­li­gious mi­nori­ties or a fail­ure to pros­e­cute sus­pects ar­rested for re­li­giously mo­ti­vated crimes. The com­mis­sion blamed blas­phemy laws in some Mus­lim coun­tries for re­li­gious vi­o­lence.

Egypt, which re­ceives about $1.5 bil­lion a year in U.S. aid, was the only coun­try moved from the watch list to the black­list of coun­tries of “par­tic­u­lar concern” in this year’s re­port.

The com­mis­sion noted that at­tacks on re­li­gious mi­nori­ties, es­pe­cially against Ortho­dox Chris­tians, called Copts, “re­mained high,” even af­ter the anti-gov­ern­ment up­ris­ings that top­pled au­thor­i­tar­ian Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak in Fe­bru­ary. Egypt’s Chris­tians make up 10 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion of 82 mil­lion.

“In the case of Egypt, in­stances of se­vere re­li­gious free­dom vi­o­la­tions en­gaged in or tol­er­ated by the gov­ern­ment have in­creased dra­mat­i­cally [. . . ] with vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing mur­der, es­ca­lat­ing against Cop­tic Chris­tians and other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties,” Mr. Leo said.

Egypt’s fail­ure to pros­e­cute sus­pects ac­cused of re­li­gious crimes con­tin­ued un­der the mil­i­tary gov­ern­ment that re­placed Mr. Mubarak, he added.

“A cli­mate of im­punity [. . . ] has been on a low boil for some time,” he told The Times. “The prob­lem is ba­si­cally that, for a while now, the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment has not re­sponded to acts of sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence.”

In Fe­bru­ary, an Egyp­tian court ac­quit­ted two of three de­fen­dants charged in a Christ­mas Eve drive-by shoot­ing that left six Cop­tics dead. One Mus­lim po­lice­man also was killed in the at­tack.

On Jan. 1, a sui­cide bomber struck out­side a church in the Mediter­ranean city of Alexan­dria as wor­ship­pers emerged from a New Year’s Eve Mass. Twenty-three peo­ple were killed and scores wounded.

Since Mr. Mubarak was forced from of­fice on Feb. 11, “mil­i­tary and se­cu­rity forces re­port­edly have used ex­ces­sive force and live am­mu­ni­tion tar­get­ing Chris­tian places of wor­ship and Chris­tian demon­stra­tors,” the com­mis­sion said.

It also crit­i­cized the Egyp­tian gov­ern­ment for not do­ing enough to com­bat anti-Semitism in the gov­ern­ment-con­trolled me­dia.

The com­mis­sion cited a “cli­mate of im­punity” in cases of re­li­gious vi­o­lence in Pak­istan, a key U.S. ally in the war on terrorism.

It blamed Pak­istan’s blas­phemy law, which out­laws crit­i­cism of Is­lam, for vi­o­lat­ing “re­li­gious free­dom di­rectly” and in­di­rectly “en­er­giz­ing ex­trem­ists who threaten the free­doms of all Pak­ista­nis.”

Ex­trem­ists this year killed two prom­i­nent Pak­istani crit­ics of the law, Pun­jab Gov. Sal­maan Taseer, a Mus­lim, and Mi­nori­ties Af­fairs Min­is­ter Shah­baz Bhatti, a Chris­tian.

The com­mis­sion re­port is ded­i­cated to the mem­ory of Mr. Bhatti.

“The as­sas­si­na­tion of Mr. Bhatti and Gov. Taseer were em­blem­atic of the kind of cul­ture of in­tol­er­ance that ex­ists in Pak­istan,” Mr. Leo said.

Im­ran Gardezi, a spokesman for the Pak­istani Em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton, said the rights of mi­nori­ties are pro­tected un­der Pak­istan’s Con­sti­tu­tion.

He said Pak­istan is faced with a “huge chal­lenge” of ex­trem­ism and that the sit­u­a­tion “is be­ing ex­ploited by ob­scu­ran­tists who are mis­in­ter­pret­ing the teach­ings of Is­lam.”

In China, Mr. Leo cited “state-spon­sored ag­gres­sion” as the com­mis­sion’s key concern. Chinese per­se­cu­tion of Chris­tians, Uighur Mus­lims and Bud­dhists in­creased over the past year.

Vi­o­lence against mi­nori­ties in Iraq has driven some re­li­gious com­mu­ni­ties to the brink of ex­tinc­tion. A mass ex­o­dus of Chris­tians re­duced the com­mu­nity by more than half. Other re­li­gious mi­nori­ties have fallen by more than 80 per­cent be­cause of em­i­gra­tion.

The State Depart­ment list in­cludes Burma, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Ara­bia, Su­dan and Uzbek­istan. Saudi Ara­bia is the only coun­try with an “in­def­i­nite waiver” of any U.S. sanc­tion for its re­li­gious prac­tices.

The com­mis­sion’s list in­cludes those same na­tions plus Iraq, Nige­ria, Pak­istan, Turk­menistan and Viet­nam, as well as Egypt. The com­mis­sion cites Bangladesh, Kaza­khstan and Morocco as coun­tries that are “closely mon­i­tored.”

The nine-mem­ber com­mis­sion, cre­ated 1998, is ap­pointed by the pres­i­dent and the Repub­li­can and Demo­cratic con­gres­sional lead­ers. It re­ports to the White House, the State Depart­ment and Congress.

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