By Mennatallah Fouad Youssef
CAIRO: Egypt once again ranked among the world’s worst violators of religious freedom by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom’s (USCIRF) in its annual report.
The report said that Egypt’s transition government has continuously “engaged in and tolerated systematic, ongoing and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief.”
For the second consecutive year, it was labeled a “country of particular concern.”
“In Egypt, an epicenter of the Arab Spring, hope turned to dismay, as human rights conditions, particularly religious freedom abuses, worsened dramatically under military rule,” the report said.
Acts of discrimination and human rights violations have been practiced against Coptic Christians and minorities, including Bahais, Shias and followers of the Ahmadi sect.
The commission accused the interim government, and particularly its security apparatus, of failing to protect religious minorities as violence against them increased since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster, giving space for continuous violent acts and, at times, encouraging such violence.
The report cited the Maspero violence, where it said military and security forces attacked Copts protesting in front of the state-owned television building, leaving 27 dead and hundreds injured. Protesters were demonstrating against attacks on several churches across Egypt, and were demanding protection.
The report specified state media as fueling sectarian violence at the time, accusing Coptic protestors of attacking the Egyptian military. It also mentioned the increased role of some government Imams in enticing sectarian hatred.
“Authorities continued to prosecute and sentence citizens charged with blasphemy and allowed official media to incite violence against religious minority members, while failing to protect them or to convict responsible parties.
“Law enforcement and the courts fostered a climate of impunity in the face of repeated attacks against Coptic Christians and their churches. Rather than defending these minorities, military and security forces turned their guns on them, using live ammunition against Coptic Christians and other demonstrators, killing dozens and wounding hundreds in Maspero,” it said.
The commission’s reporting period ranges from April 2011 until the end of February. It listed 16 countries as “countries of particular concern” or CPC, where different minorities face prosecution and limited ability to practice religion.
This list includes Iran, China, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Burma, Eritrea, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, Sudan, Turkey, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The report highlighted the systematic persecution of governments towards any religious minority.
According to the report, the “Saudi government persists in banning all forms of public religious expression other than that of the government‘s own interpretation of one school of Sunni Islam; prohibits churches, synagogues, temples, and other non-Muslim places of worship; uses in its schools and posts online state textbooks that continue to espouse intolerance and incite violence; and periodically interferes with private religious practice.”
According to the International Religious Freedom Act, recommendations are being made to the US State Department to act to enforce more religious freedoms in the named countries.
The IRFA said, “The US government should not certify the disbursement of military assistance to Egypt until the Egyptian transitional government demonstrates that it is using funds appropriated through the Foreign Military Financing Program to implement policies that protect freedom of religion and related human rights in Egypt.”
Zeinab Abul-Magd, political science and history professor at the American University in Cairo (AUC), told Daily News Egypt that the US administration could easily ignore these recommendations.
“The US administration has proven that it is more concerned with its military ties and capitalist relations with the Egyptian government, rather than democratic transformation in the country; which religious freedom is tied to,” she said.
The US recently gave the green light for aid to Egypt after it had threatened to withhold it as a response to a crackdown on foreign funding of NGOs.
Egypt was first recommended as a CPC in 2011, and has been on the commission’s watch list since 2002.