Ace reporter of global Catholicism John Allen wrote an insightful column last week on the U.S. State Department’s recently released annual report on human rights. He takes the department to task for ignoring the plight of Egypt’s persecuted Christians.
The document cites only one instance of a Christian suffering discrimination, involving a man charged under anti-blasphemy laws for “liking” a Facebook page critical of Islam. Yet Christians are the largest and most embattled minority in Egypt, forming 10 percent of a population of 83 million, and any account of the human rights situation that fails to feature their hardships is seriously incomplete.
In general, religion is undervalued throughout the State Department report. It lists seven categories of human rights problems, treating religious freedom as a mere sub-heading under “respect for civil liberties.”
Granted, the State Department is correct to be concerned about all threats to personal freedoms and civil rights. Granted, too, a special American focus on Christians might simply make things worse, feeding suspicions that the Western powers are leading a 21st century crusade against other faiths.
In fairness, the report does give prominence to anti-Christian persecution in a few other nations, including threats from ISIS in Iraq.
Still, if the suffering of Egyptian [Christians] . . . isn’t worthy of serious American concern — especially since it comes in a country that’s the second-largest recipient of US military and economic aid in the world — then it’s hard to know what such an outrage might look like.
Things have gotten worse, not better, since the fall of the Morsi government, and they don’t look likely to improve any time soon:
Far from better days after the fall of a Muslim Brotherhood government in July 2013, Botros says that today things are “ten times worse” in Egypt than they were, for instance, under former ruler Hosni Mubarak just a few years ago.
“We thought the police would start a new era with the people,” he said, “but it hasn’t happened.”
Ibrahim, the human rights expert, echoes that impression. He identifies five broad categories of threats faced by Christians in Egypt:
- Physical assaults on churches and other Christian properties
- Difficulties in obtaining permits to build or repair churches
- Kidnappings for ransom
- Selective enforcement of anti-blasphemy laws
- Forced displacements, especially from rural villages
Only the first, Ibrahim said, has improved under Sisi. Statistically speaking, he said, incidents in other categories are actually on the rise.
Further spikes in violence could be on the near-term horizon. Last month, an Egyptian court sentenced Morsi to death for his alleged involvement in a prison break, and just two weeks ago the sentence was confirmed.
Mina Thabet, another human rights observer with the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, believes that if those sentences are actually carried out, it could spark another wave of anti-Christian rage.