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Monday, January 24, 2011     INTELLIGENCE BRIEFING

Mubarak's election year tactics may endanger Egypt's Christians

WASHINGTON — Congress has been warned that the Coptic minority in Egypt is facing an unprecedented threat.


A leading Coptic analyst told a House committee that the estimated eight million member community could face dangerous Muslim pressure in 2011.

Dina Guirguis, an analyst with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told a panel of the House Foreign Relations Committee that the regime of President Hosni Mubarak might enable Muslim attacks on the Copts in an effort to win the next presidential elections, scheduled for this fall.

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"The regime may well encourage the growth and influence of hardline Salafist movements in order to counter its largest opposition group, the relatively more moderate Muslim Brotherhood," Ms. Guirguis said.

[On Jan. 22, Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Abu Al Gheit described an Al Qaida attack on a Coptic church in Alexandria as seeking to destroy national unity in Egypt, Middle East Newsline reported. Al Gheit issued the statement after meeting his French counterpart, Michele Alliot-Marie.]

In testimony to the committee's Human Rights Commission, Ms. Guirguis, an attorney as well as a U.S. citizen, outlined the increasing threat to and official discrimination against the Coptic minority, said to account for 10 percent of Egypt. She said Egypt's government and security forces have failed to protect Copts from Muslim attacks, including those by Al Qaida.

Instead, Christian victims or their familes have been forced to drop charges against Muslim assailants in what she termed "forced reconciliation." In other cases, Copts have been expelled from their homes and ordered to relocate to another area of Egypt.

"The state's consistent denial of the fair application of the rule of law, manifest in the preference of reconciliation in lieu of prosecution, as well as its blatant siding with the perpetrators of sectarian violence results in the alienation of the Copts in their own land and in the polarization of Egyptian society," Ms. Guirguis said.

Both Congress as well as the State Department have expressed concern over the increasing Muslim attacks on Egypt's Coptic community. Congress has threatened to link human and religious rights to the $1.5 billion in annual U.S. aid to Cairo.

The House panel was also told that Egypt continued to deny Copts the right to worship, including the construction of churches. Ms. Guirguis said the regime also tolerates media incitement against Christians and tries to reverse conversions to Christianity.

"Knowing that the real answer to Egypt's sectarian crisis is progress toward a democratic state that respects human rights, applies the rule of law and extends equal constitutional protections to all citizens, the Egyptian regime will avoid doing so at all costs," Ms. Guirguis said. "Instead, it will, as it has already begun to, respond in typical appeasement fashion — with empty rhetoric about national unity and promises, and perhaps some cosmetic changes — while ultimately retaining the status quo."

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