WASHINGTON–On Friday, July 22, Rep. Chris Smith (NJ-04), Chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission, held a groundbreaking hearing, “Minority At Risk: Coptic Christians in Egypt”, and the evening before, on Thursday, July 21, House Foreign Affairs Committee approved a Smith amendment promoting Coptic Human Rights to the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012.
The July 22 hearing focused “on the question of what is happening to the Coptic Christians in Egypt… in the new country that is emerging from the revolution this spring.” Rep. Smith (NJ-04) said that, “early signs are discouraging: there has been escalation in violence against Copts, which has included the killing of dozens of Copts, firebombings, and the destruction of at least three churches.”
The hearing had a special focus, Rep. Smith said, on “the widespread and credible allegations that in Egypt Coptic women and girls are subject to abduction, forced conversion to Islam, and forced marriage to Muslims. They appear to be targeted with deceptive and abusive practices, which often include violence and separate them forever, against their will, from their families,” while the Egyptian government “has completely failed to initiate credible investigations into these cases, which creates a climate of impunity for the perpetrators.” Smith urged action in support of Egyptian Copts, especially women and girls threatened with abduction, including passage of legislation authored by Rep. Frank Wolf (VA-10) to create a State Department Special Envoy to promote the religious freedom of minorities in the Middle East, designation of Egypt as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, and restructuring U.S. foreign aid to Egypt. To read the Congressman’s opening statement at the hearing, click here.
Witnesses at the hearing spoke passionately on the abduction of women and girls, which Michele Clark, author of a important study of the issue, estimated to number “several thousand cases a year;” Jean Maher, Representative of the French Coptic Association, concurred that “we are also sure there are thousands.” The witnesses opening testimony can be viewed here:
- Jean Maher, President, French Office, Egyptian Union for Human Rights Organization; Representative, French Coptic Associations;
- Michele A. Clark, Adjunct Professor, Elliott School of International Affairs, The George Washington University, and author of the 2009 study “The Disappearance, Forced Conversion, and Forced Marriages of Coptic Christian Women in Egypt”; and
- Caroline Doss, J.D., Vice President, Coptic Solidarity.
The hearing aired live on C-SPAN and was re-broadcast several times over the weekend. It can be viewed by clicking here.
On July 21, the evening before the hearing, the House Committee on Foreign Affairs approved an amendment offered by Rep. Smith to address violations of human rights of the Egyptian Coptic community. The measure was unanimously approved and included in H.R. 2583, the Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, and now moves to the House floor. To read the Smith amendment on Egyptian Coptic Christian human rights, click here.