"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."