Coptic Orphans NGO Denied Permission to Work in Egypt

After recently being one of eight NGOs denied international registration with the Egyptian government, the humanitarian group Coptic Orphans is speaking out on what many see as an unjust move on behalf of an Islamic-run government.

Coptic Orphans is a nonprofit non-governmental organization founded in 1988 by Nermien Riad which seeks to offer support to Coptic, paternal orphans and their families in Egypt. Today, the organization "works through a network of 400+ church-based volunteers in Egypt," according to its official website.

As reported on the Coptic Orphans Blog, Egypt's Al Masry Al Youm newspaper reported on April 23 that the country's Ministry of Insurance and Social Affairs denied the organization's 2005 application on the grounds that "mechanism[s] of implementation [were] found by the Egyptian [government to be in] conflict with state sovereignty over its territory."

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"We do not understand how working with orphaned children in Egypt to promote education and break the cycle of poverty could in any way conflict with national sovereignty," Nermien Riad, the founder and executive director of Coptic Orphans, said in a statement.

Many have criticized Egypt's treatment of its Coptic people, arguing that violence and bias toward the minority religious group has escalated greatly since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in Feb. 2011.

After the Arab Spring uprisings in Winter 2011, several radical Muslim groups that had remained subdued by former President Mubarak gained power and influence. Violence against Coptic Christians escalated in the form of church burnings and clashes with military personnel.

The Arab Spring uprisings saw a mass emigration of Coptic Christians, with 10,000 Copts leaving the country since March 2011, according to some reports.

Parliamentary elections this February resulted in a Muslim-dominated parliament, thus sparking fear that Egypt's newly written constitution would also feature provisions that favor Islam and fall in accordance with Quran-based Shariah law.

The government's recent decision to ban these NGOs raises further suspicion of its Islamic leaders' unwillingness to accept religious plurality in the Egyptian culture.

Coptic Orphans has not shied away from the government's threat of dissolution.

"Until the Lord calls us to stop, Coptic Orphans will continue to fulfill its commitment to the children. Village volunteers in local parishes will continue to visit orphaned families, renovate homes, and provide tutoring: all with the same support," Riad said in her statement.

"We have already taken steps to protect contributions, and will make sure that support reaches the field uninterrupted," she added.

According to the Egyptian Independent newspaper, other NGOs currently forbidden from working in Egypt include the Latter-day Saints Charities, affiliated with the Mormon Church, and the Seeds of Peace organization.

Human rights watchdog The Carter Center was also denied permission to work in the country. The Carter Center was planning to deploy officials to oversee Egypt's election process. According to the Egyptian Independent, it was also planning on reporting on the effectiveness and fairness of the election to concerned international agencies.

Coptic Orphans has stated that it plans to pursue legal measures to protest the government's decision.

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