(Photo: REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh)
A petition started by the American Center for Law and Justice is urging President Barack Obama to make sure foreign aid given to Egypt comes with the condition that Christians are protected from the escalating attacks they are suffering at the hands of Muslim-Brotherhood backed Islamists.
"Seventy churches shouldn't be burned down throughout Egypt. That's happening because the military is not yet willing to stand in the way," Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ executive director, said in a phone interview with The Christian Post on Tuesday.
"Words are not enough. Yes, the United States – when we speak, it's powerful, but what also makes us powerful is the amount of funding we provide to the world and I think this is one of the opportunities we have to at least give this Muslim majority population and military, which we've had a pretty good relationship with, the opportunity to do the right thing."
The U.S. government sends a substantial amount of aid to Egypt every year – close to $1.3 billion, which it says goes into stabilizing the region and helping the decades-long American ally in the Middle East.
With the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power, however, and with the current protests following the ousting of president Mohamed Morsi that have led to hundreds of deaths in clashes between activists and government forces, many are questioning the allocation of that aid money.
Following the deadly clashes last week that claimed over 600 lives, the U.S. condemned the actions of the interim government and said that it is halting planned military exercises with Egypt. Reports circled earlier this week claiming that the $1.3 billion annual aid to Egypt has also been cut, but National Security Council spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said that such stories are "incorrect."
"As the president has said, we are reviewing all of our assistance to Egypt. No policy decisions have been made at this point regarding the remaining assistance," Hayden added.
The ACLJ petition, which has already been signed by over 37,000 people, calls on Obama to comply with human rights requirements and to stand on the side of religious freedom against the Muslim Brotherhood.
"American aid must be conditioned on the protection of Christians, and it must be used to oppose our jihadist enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood," the petition states, and lists the growing number of attacks against Christians in the North African country.
Islamist mobs have burned down a number of churches, monasteries and Christian schools, and there have been reports of Christians who have been killed, as Islamists are turning their anger toward Egypt's minority Coptic population for backing the protests that brought down Morsi.
Sekulow told CP that one of the main reasons Islamists are targeting Christians is because it gives them a sense of unity.
"On one hand you have the Muslim Brotherhood, who in the past has seen that targeting Christians has unified Muslims. I think that says more about the entire Muslim community than it does just the Muslim Brotherhood, and this gives Muslims that are not part of the Muslim Brotherhood an opportunity to stand up and say 'No, this will not unite us – in fact, this will divide us.'"
He noted that the Egyptian military is one of the largest in the world, supplied substantially by the U.S., and that it has the ability to defend churches – but that would mean it would have to put its soldiers, many of them Muslims, on the line to defend Christians – something it is unlikely to do without a specific condition on the aid money.
The ACLJ executive director said that the Muslim Brotherhood's claims that Christians are responsible for the overthrow of Morsi are "absurd."
"Sure, they were supportive of the Muslim Brotherhood president going down. But they make up at most 10-12 percent of the Egyptian population of 84 million, they are 8 million," Sekulow said.
"I don't believe the Muslim Brotherhood wants to acknowledge that it was Muslims that decided they had enough of the Muslim Brotherhood."
Egypt's Copts found themselves in a similar situation in the 2011 uprising against former President Hosni Mubarak, where scores were killed in attacks by Islamists, and by government forces when they were protesting against those very same attacks.
Sekulow noted that in Egypt, Christians are not really able to defend themselves.
"When Christians fight back and defend church property, and a Muslim gets killed, then the military has shown in the last couple of years that they will roll in tanks into the Christian neighborhoods. The Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies are now arming themselves and they are following a very similar plan to what the Nazis did in Europe, by labeling the homes of Christians."
The ACLJ petition, he says, seeks to get the U.S. government to create conditions so that Egypt's government shows that it is ready to protect churches and its minority population from the ongoing human rights abuses.
"A lot of the finances do go toward peace in the region, which historically has been a good country," Sekulow continued.
"But we supported the overthrow of the leader who was behind that, Hosni Mubarak. It (Mubarak's reign) wasn't a great place for Christians, but Christian churches were not regularly being destroyed. It was a sense where the government had shut down or imprisoned the Muslim Brotherhood and made them go underground, though they stayed very much alive and organized – but they knew that if they had done something like that, then that military would crack down."
Other human rights groups, such as Amnesty International, have also joined the call for the Egyptian government to start protecting Christians from the "unprecedented rise" in violence against them.
"It is a shocking dereliction of duty that security forces failed to prevent these sectarian attacks and protect Coptic Christians," said Hassiba Hadja Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
"The backlash against Coptic Christians should have been anticipated following the dramatic rise in similar incidents since Mohamed Morsi was ousted. Attacks against Coptic Christians must be investigated and those responsible brought to justice."
The petition to Obama can be found on ACLJ's website.