Bahey eldin Hassan, the Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS), gave a speech before Coptic Solidarity during their 8th annual conference titled “Combating Terrorism without Sacrificing Civil Rights.” The conference, which was held at the US Congress on June 15-16, was attended by members of Congress, diplomats, and academics.
On a different note, Hassan spoke the day before at a seminar on Egypt organized by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in Washington DC. Hassan highlighted how the Egyptian human rights community has endured constant and severe repression since 2011 from all fronts – including with the sanctioning and complicity of the Muslim Brotherhood. Hassan further added that this crackdown has taken place within a strategic framework that identifies the liberal democratic movement as a strategic enemy for the military establishment as well as the Muslim brotherhood.
Hassan added that since President Sisi assumed office, his identification of the human rights community as a strategic threat to his dictatorship, has only intensified these repressive policies. The crackdown currently faced by NGOs includes asset freezes, forced closures of headquarters, media defamation campaigns including incitement to violence, draconian laws, travel bans, security harassment in Egypt and abroad, and death threats.
During his speech at Coptic Solidarity, Hassan outlined how Egyptian regimes –including former President Morsi and President Sisi- have exploited the Copts’ situation; stoking sectarianism to advance their political agendas. In doing so, both regimes have frayed Egypt’s social fabric, compromising Egypt’s long-term stability as well as the rights and safety of Coptic citizens.
Attacks by ISIS and non-militant extremists against Copts have increased after President Sisi’s election, Hassan pointed out, as he brought attention to the role of state policy in exacerbating sectarian conflict, and endangering The Coptic community. Hassan referenced the discriminatory Church-building law, in which Copts, for the first time, were legally identified as a sect, not citizens. The passage of this law in 2016 represented an abandonment of the “long-standing demand of Egyptians for a unified law for houses of worship.”
Hassan observed that amidst escalating terrorist attacks and sectarianism-inflaming state policy, the only force in Egypt consistently demanding equality and justice for Coptic citizens has been the liberal democratic movement, represented by the human rights community. Hassan urged the Coptic leadership to align itself with human rights defenders and other pro-democracy forces, emphasizing that it is “through the advancement of a liberal democracy that Copts will find long term safety, security, and equality in Egypt.”
Hassan concluded his speech by calling for convincing Pope Tawadros II to abandon the political role that he currently assumes on behalf of the Coptic community and to devote himself to his spiritual and religious duties, in order to give space for the Coptic community to make their decision.
On the 2nd day of the conference, Hassan addressed the relationship between President Sisi’s policies aiming to eradicate human rights activism in Egypt, and the policies which have resulted in endangering the Copts community. Copts, as well as other Egyptian minorities, have lost a lot by the weakening of human rights NGOs.
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