CAIRO: The split in Coptic opinion over foreign interference in Egypt’s internal affairs once more reared its head Monday, as international Coptic organizations called for American action to protect Christians living in Egypt.
Senator Frank Wolf, Virginian Republican, introduced resolution 1303 on July 24, 2008. The resolution, as stated in a press release from the Coptic Assembly of America, “calls on the Egyptian government to respect human rights and religious freedoms and urges the American government to put pressure on the Egyptian government with regards to this.
The demands include the release of political prisoners such as Ayman Nour, but it is the call to cease “harassment of religious minorities that forms the backbone of the resolution.
After rallying for two months, it was announced Monday that the resolution has gained the required support from Congressmen to deliver it to Congress.
Mandarins within Egypt’s Christian Church, however, have expressed strong opposition to what many see as unnecessary and damaging interference in Coptic affairs.
“It is true that Christians suffer many problems in Egypt, but this does not warrant a plea for foreign interference, as the necessary channels exist here in Egypt, Akram Alamie, media spokesperson for the Protestant Church, told Daily News Egypt.
“It is true that legally, Christian religious channels do not have permission to broadcast on state Egyptian networks [namely Nilesat], but problems can be aired through appearing on opposition channels.
“In the past there might have been a reason to seek help abroad, but now the government allows opposition and demonstrations. If Christian Egyptians want to air their views, they should do so by coming to Egypt, and discussing the issues here, he added.
Representative of the Orthodox Church, Bishop Morqos of Shubra El-Kheima, told Daily News Egypt, “We will deal with our problems internally.
America should, and will have to seek the advice of the Coptic Church in Egypt before any resolution is passed in Congress.
However, Dr Naguib Gabriel, lawyer and head of the Egyptian Human Rights Union, is a Copt who disagrees with Church activity in what he perceives as an affair which concerns the citizenry. “That the Church’s opinion plays such as large role in representing Coptic citizens points to the fact that this state has become a religious state, rather than a civil state.
Gabriel, who was recently attacked by Al-Azhar for putting together a book calling for the abrogation of the second article of the constitution, which sets Islam as the state religion and principal source of legislation, strongly supports the resolution.
“The situation in Egypt, which has escalated in recent years, calls for outside pressure. The channels are locked to Egyptian Christians, none of the recommendations made at the national Coptic Conference last year have been dealt with, and the People’s Assembly has not passed anything to help their situation. We are without laws to protect Copts.
He added that according to Article 18 of the constitution, citizens have the right to seek help from the United Nations, should the Egyptian legal system fail to provide protection.
But both sides express similar sentiments when discussing whether – should the resolution pass through Congress – America will actually take action.
“Said ‘pressure’ is not likely to be anything more than a verbal warning. We know that Egypt is a pivotal strategic ally to America, and unfortunately this takes priority, said Gabriel. “But it will still make the Egyptian government aware that this problem can’t be hidden.
Alamie, however, warned that Copts should not bet on American promises.
“America looks to its interest first and foremost. An example of this is its stance on the inheritance of the presidency, which America was traditionally against.
“When [the US] saw in the People’s Assembly elections that the Muslim Brotherhood might be a real alternative, it altered its position. There is a local saying in Egypt, and it rings true here; whoever covers himself with America, is naked.