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Egyptian Copts to Obama: Reconciliation is a Two-Way Street

Coptic Egyptian expatriates urge President Obama to remember the Muslim world's oppressed minorities. Members of Congress echoed their concerns.
By Nissan Ratzlav-Katz
First Publish: 6/1/2009, 11:12 PM

Israel News Photo: www.amcoptic.com

Members of the Egyptian Coptic diaspora urged American President Barack Obama to remember the Middle East's oppressed non-Muslim minorities during his upcoming trip to Cairo. Several members of the U.S. Congress echoed the Copts' concerns.

President Obama is slated to deliver what has been billed as a groundbreaking speech of reconciliation between the West and the Muslim world at Cairo University on June 4, 2009. Christian Copts of California (CCC), an organization representing expatriate Egyptians of the ancient Coptic minority, has written an urgent letter to the American leader reminding him that "reconciliation cannot be separated from reciprocation. The Islamic World must not demand from us that which they are unwilling to retune to us and to extend to their own citizens of other religious. I hope you help them understand reconciliation is a two-way street."

In their letter, dated May 27, CCC acknowledged that the "Muslim World has been voicing feelings of grievances against the USA." While "it is crucial for the USA to listen to the Islamic World's point of view," writes Mounir Bishay, on behalf of the organization, "I hope somebody tells them it is equally crucial for them to listen to America's point of view. Historically the USA has done sufficient favors for the Muslim World to earn respect rather than such vehement hatred. Somebody needs to remind them the USA has been good to them. A large part of U.S. foreign aid has been going to Islamic countries."

Even the vast oil reserves enjoyed by the Arab Gulf States, the CCC letter notes, were only developed thanks to "American technologies and ingenuity" and that "the oil fields of the Gulf Islamic States would go unprotected from outside aggressors" without America. "Ironically, some of such are neighboring Muslim nations. Somebody needs to remind the Muslim World that polite reciprocity for generous kindnesses shown is supposedly an Islamic custom."

Muslims in America, CCC continues, live with "no restrictions on their religious practices and they are free to expend efforts to convert as many Americans as they can to Islam. Mosques, Islamic centers and schools are freely built allover the country. Such freedoms are most definitely not offered to those of other faiths within the boundaries of the Islamic World."

In Egypt "the capital of the Islamic World, where Mr. Obama has chosen to deliver his speech," CCC states, "Muslims seeking to convert to Christianity or to any other faith are not permitted to do so. Christians need presidential decrees to build new churches and governor's approval to repair existing ones. There have been instances where Christians were arrested for praying in their homes without a permit." Furthermore, the Coptic organization claims that there are quotas limiting the hiring of Christians in some professions in Egypt.

As of this writing, Bishay told Israel National News, there has been no official response from the White House. Previously, American Copts also sent a letter to the Egyptian Ambassador to Washington, Sameh Shukri, demanding fair treatment for the Egyptian Coptic community.

According to Jim Jacobson, president of Christian Freedom International, "When it comes to human rights and the treatment of minority Christians, Egypt has an extremely poor track record. The President should have a lot to talk about with Egyptian President Muhammad Hosni Mubarak, one of the longest-serving leaders in the Arab world. We hope he uses this as an opportunity to speak out for persecuted, minority Christians in Egypt."

In Egypt, Islam, the official state religion, is the primary authority for legislation. Estimates of the number of
Coptic organization claims that there are quotas limiting the hiring of Christians.
Christians range from 10 to 15 million, out of a total of 79 million. Most Christian Egyptians are members of the Coptic Orthodox Church, which predates the Islamic conquest of the region by hundreds of years.

Congressmen Also Step Up
In a lengthy letter to President Obama, delivered May 28, ten members of the U.S. Congress also called on him to take a stand for minority rights in the Arab world.

"The Middle East has historically been a place of religious pluralism and cultural diversity," the congresspeople claimed. "Please remind your audience that while the international community is committed to help Muslim minorities around the world, including those in India, Russia, China, and the West, at the same time we must ensure that all other minorities inside the 'Muslim world' are granted their basic rights."

Turning to Obama's hosts for the June 4 speech, the congressional letter added, "We urge you to ask [your audience] to help Egypt fight the scourge of terrorism and stand by its own Coptic minority, often targeted by extremists' violence."