Human Rights Activist Tells of Coptic Christians' Plight in Egypt

Cynthia Farahat, a Coptic Christian and human rights activist from Egypt, testified before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House of Representatives, revealing how Christians in Egypt have been suffering violent persecution due in no small part to the billions of dollars in military aid the U.S. has given Egypt since 1979.

“I have an Egyptian passport, but I am not a citizen,” Farahat told the committee. “The concept of citizenship is a western concept that does not apply to us in Egypt. I am a woman and I am a Copt. I am a fourth-class citizen in Egypt. The first class citizen in Egypt is the Sunni male. Second class is the Sunni female. The third class is the Coptic male and the fourth class is the Coptic female.”

Farahat, who is also a co-founder of two liberal, secular parties in the country, said that the discriminatory policies are nothing new: they have been part of the law since 1971, when Egypt became a “constitutional theocracy” when then-President Anwar Sadat made Shariah law the principal source of legislation in the constitution, Farahat said. The influence of Shariah increased under U.S. ally Hosni Mubarak's rule, slowly decreasing the safety and legitimacy of Christian citizens in Egyptian society, she said.

“That's why none of the criminals who committed crimes against Copts were prosecuted in any way,” Farahat said. “Because it is against Shariah law and that's a fact, not an opinion, to persecute a Muslim for killing, raping, and torturing or vandalizing the property of a non-Muslim. This is our legal status and it has been happening under Mubarak's so-called 'moderate' regime and it's happening now.”

As an example of this persecution, Farahat told the story of how her friend was killed by the Egyptian military during a protest on Oct. 9, 2011. Michael Mosad, like Farahat, a Coptic and human rights activist, was at a protest with his fiancé, Vivian.

“Suddenly, she said she did not feel Michael's hand in hers,” Farahat said. “She then saw him caught in the wheels of a military vehicle that drove onto the pavement and ran him over. His skull was fractured and his legs were nearly severed from his body. As she sat next to him crying and calling for help, soldiers gathered around Michael, brutally beating and kicking his motionless body. Vivian threw her body over his to protect him. She begged them to stop, but military officers beat and cursed her; they called her an infidel, 'Christian sons of dogs,' and worse.”

Farahat went on to reiterate that the Coptic Christians killed in protests were killed by the Egyptian military, which has received much of the $2 billion in foreign aid given by the U.S. annually since 1979 (the U.S. State Department says that total is $1.3 billion). As an example of how direct military aid hurts people in Egypt, Farahat pointed out that 21 tons of tear gas was sent to Egypt just before the last elections.

“These weapons are not used by the military against militant Islamists who are trying to subvert and destroy our country, institute Shariah law, and inflame the broader Middle East,” Farahat said. “These weapons are used against the allies of the United States of America, the Copts and the secular moderate Muslims.”

The amount of military aid the U.S. gives to Egypt each year has been a controversial topic for a long time. According to a Wikileaks cable, U.S. and Egyptian diplomats discussed how military aid given to Egypt is considered “untouchable compensation” for maintaining peace with Israel, as well as allowing the U.S. military to conduct operations in the Suez Canal area.

“The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear,” the cable read. “Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the U.S. military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace.”

Farahat pleaded to the panel to immediately stop all American aid to Egypt “until there is demonstrable, verifiable evidence that the Egyptian government is allowing non-Muslim religious minorities in Egypt to exercise the freedom of speech and religion without fear of intimidation or reprisal.”

In Oct. 24, Coptic Christians were killed in clashes with the military, prompting international concern over the worsening persecution of Christians in Egypt, who make up 10 percent of the country's population of 84 million.

Here is an excerpt of Farahat's testimony before the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House of Representatives:

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