Head of Egypt's SIS says there should be dialogue with US Congress on Coptic issues

Gamal Essam El-Din , Wednesday 27 Dec 2017

MPs also said most of the information Congress receives on the situation of Copts and human rights in Egypt are incorrect. Gamal Essam El-Din reports.

The Head of the State Information Services Diaa Rashwan (Photo: Ahram)

In a meeting held by the Egyptian parliament's committees on foreign affairs and defence and national security on Wednesday, the head of Egypt's State Information Service (SIS) Diaa Rashwan said that there should be a dialogue and intensive contact between Egyptian MPs and US Congress members on issues related to Copts and human rights in Egypt.

Rashwan said six Congress members received last week a memorandum from a US-based organisation called Coptic Solidarity, which claimed that there is systematic discrimination against Copts in Egypt by the government under President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi's administration.

"As a result, a hearing session was held by Congress with some members expressing concern over what they called increased attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt," said Rashwan.

A number of US media outlets have reported that on 21 December, some Congress members adopted a resolution titled "Expressing concern over attacks on Coptic Christians," which received strong bipartisan support.

Rashwan said that "what is strange about this resolution is that it is based on incorrect and misguided information, and that no Egyptian officials were invited to respond to the accusations levelled by the Coptic Solidarity organisation."

"Everybody knows that Egyptians – Muslims and Christians – have become a target of terrorism in recent years and that allegations about government discrimination against Copts are entirely unfounded," said Rashwan.

“What do US Congress members have to say about Muslims who were killed in a mosque in Sinai, or about police and army soldiers who lost their lives in terrorist attacks?"

"Does this mean that the Egyptian government also does not provide Muslims with enough protection?" asked Rashwan.

"The government and parliament should issue a public statement about the number of Muslims and Christians in Egypt who lost their lives to terrorism in recent years," Rashwan said.

"This statement should show that all have become targets of terrorism, and that [the notion that] followers of a certain religion do not receive adequate protection or suffer from systematic discrimination is incorrect."

Rashwan, the former head of Al-Ahram's Centre for Strategic and Political Studies, urged parliament to open channels of communication with the US Congress and American media to discuss issues regarding Coptic and human rights in Egypt on a regular basis.

"Coptic MPs in particular should play a greater role in responding to misguided information about Copts in the US," said Rashwan, asking "who should represent Copts living abroad or speak on their behalf, especially in the US? Is it immigrant Copts, the Coptic church, or Coptic MPs in Egypt?"

Rashwan also deplored that "there is not enough information about the US-based Coptic Solidarity organisation."

"It is clear that the US Congress members opted to base their resolution about Copts in Egypt on information provided by this organisation alone without listening to any other parties," said Rashwan.

Rashwan reiterated that there should be a dialogue between Egypt and the US administrations on sensitive issues related to Copts and human rights.

"If the relations between Egypt and the US are strategic as officials on both sides like to describe them, then it is OK for officials and parliamentarians on both sides open a dialogue on issues of mutual concern," said Rashwan.

He added that the Coptic Solidarity organisation might seek to use the resolution to exert pressure on US Congress members to cut American military and economic assistance to Egypt.

Rashwan also urged Egypt's parliament to hurry up in issuing laws related to anti-discrimination and personal litigation on Coptic affairs.

"The 2014 constitution says that these laws should be a priority, so the sooner these laws are issued the better, and the easier it will be to defend Egypt's image on discrimination issues," said Rashwan, praising parliament for issuing a law last year easing regulations on building churches in the country.

MPs, including Coptic parliamentarians, said that it is regretful that some US Congress members insist every now and then on listening to "misguided information" on the situation of Copts in Egypt.

Magdy Malak, a Coptic MP from the Upper Egypt governorate of Minya, said that "Copts living in Egypt are against receiving protection from foreign powers."

Malak said that Minya governorate is home to 2,688 villages, and that the number of incidents involving sectarian strife stands at only 37, or just 2 percent of Minya, adding that "this is not a phenomenon that can be exploited by some to allege that there is discrimination against Copts."

Coptic MPs heaped praise on Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, who said in a meeting with Grand Imam of the Sunni Islamic institution of Al-Azhar that "Copts seek the protection of two only: our Muslim brethren and God."

Tarek Radwan, head of the foreign relations committee, said parliament will issue a statement in response to the resolution issued by some US congress members on the situation of Copts in Egypt.

"The statement will be sent to the US Congress very soon," said Radwan.

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