Treatment of Copts and whether the police or the legal system would provide protection to Copts who make complaints (1998) [EGY30994.E]

Information on the Copts of Egypt is also available in EGY30893.E of 8 January 1999 and EGY30470.E of 10 November 1998.

There are two schools of thought on the treatment of Copts in Egypt. On the one hand, two United States Senators, supported by international Coptic groups in the U.S., Canada and elsewhere, have introduced a bill called Freedom from Persecution Act which was passed in the House of Representatives (Middle East Times 9 Aug. 1998). One of the sponsoring senators allegedly charged Egypt with "persecuting Copts, a charge which the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has called "exaggerated" and "unsubstantiated" (ibid.). This statement was also denied by the Council of Churches of NYC which claimed that "Coptic Christians are not persecuted in Egypt" (ibid. 5 Apr. 1998) and by the Coptic Pope Shenouda III (ibid., 9 Aug. 1998).

However, the international Coptic organizations disagree (Sunday Telegraph 8 Nov. 1998; Washington Times 26 Apr. 1998). In a letter to the editor of the Washington Times on 26 April 1998, the spokesperson for the American Coptic Association, Naqi A. Kheir, claimed that "persecution ranges from physical assault to petty harassment". He cites as examples, the "criminal charges against a priest for renovations made to his church (ibid.). Other Coptic groups "complain that restrictions on building and repairing churches, a virtual absence of Coptic programming in the media and a shortage of Copts in senior government and military jobs..." (Middle East Times 5 Apr. 1998).

The Middle East Times provided a general analysis of the situation of the Copts in Egypt stating that

Copts have been caught in the crossfire of the state's five-year battle with militants which has been concentrated in Upper Egypt, home to many Egyptian Copts. Cut off from outside funding and under mounting pressure from the police, the militants have increasingly turned to stealing and extorting money from their Coptic neighbours (5 Apr. 1998).

Quoting a report by the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (EOHR) on security forces crackdown in the village of Al-Sohag, the Sunday Telegraph of London published a report on Copts that caused outraged in Egypt. According to the newspaper,

In an extensive report on the crackdown in the village of Al-Sohag in Upper Egypt, the independent Egyptian Human Rights Organisation accused the security forces of the random arrest and intimidation of hundreds of people, hostage taking and the use of torture to extract confessions.
Those who had spoken out, such as Bishop Anba Wissa, the community's spiritual leader who collected depositions and photographs of those who had been raped and tortured, and the human rights lawyer, Moris Sadek, have been arrested and charged with "disturbing the national peace and fermenting sectarianism". Believing his community will be left even more vulnerable if he is behind bars, Bishop Wissa has now allowed the State Information Service to retract his statements (8 Nov. 1998).

Responding to the Sunday Telegraph coverage, EOHR published the following statement:

The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights announces that it did not register any act of discrimination for religious reasons against any citizen.
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has followed with careful attention the report published by the Sunday Telegraph alleging persecutions and acts of torture perpetrated against Copts in Egypt for religious reasons, and pretending that thousands of Copts were nailed to the doors of their houses, beaten by the security forces, in a vast campaign against Copts, in the village of Al Kosheh, in Upper Egypt Sohag Governorate.
The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, reconfirming its firm attitude that Copts of Egypt are not a minority but an integral element, with the Islamic Citizens, of the Egyptian web, would like to underline the following realities:
1- The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights has followed de visu what happened in Al Kosheh village, thanks to a fact finding mission sent immediately after hearing that some abuses and irregularities was perpetrated, on a large scale, against the fundamental rights of the population. The report of the mission concluded that no irregularity or abuse was committed on a large scale against the rights of the Copts for religious reasons. But the Organization registered that, what was described as abuses from the security forces, could be considered as part of a « mechanism of work » of the security authorities vis-à-vis the population during any investigation or inquiry.
In its report dated 28/9/1998; the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights warned the Authorities about the necessity of assuming its responsibilities by interpellating the police forces responsible of any irregularity against the population of Al Kosheh village, otherwise they will open the door for an ill- will interpretation of what happened and to represent it as a form of persecution and discrimination against people for religious reasons.
2- The timing for launching this campaign about the problem of persecution of the Copts at the international level, stir up the Organization's fear to see problems related to human rights exploited for political reasons.
3- The Egyptian Organization for Human Rights, founded in 1985, affirms: "that it does not registered; at this date, according to its numerous reports concerning the violation of human rights in Egypt, any serious violation against Copts citizens committed by the Security authorities, for religious reasons".

No reports could be found for 1998 on the protection from the police or the courts for Copts who make complaints among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. However, on 22 July 1997 the State Department's Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Affairs issued a report entitled United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians in which a section is dedicated on the Copts of Egypt.

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim to refugee status or asylum.


Sunday Telegraph [London]. 8 November 1998. Christina Lamb. "Cover-up Charge Over Egypt Police Torture." (NEXIS)

The Washington Times. 26 April 1998. "Coptic Christians Suffer Media Blackout." (NEXIS)

Middle East Times. 5 April 1998. "Church Report Denies Persecution of Copts." Internet. [Accessed 27 Jan. 1999]

_____. 9 August 1998. Paul Schemm. "Copts Not Enthused by Congressman's Crusade on Their Behalf." Internet. [Accessed 27 Jan. 1999]

MSANews. "EOHR: No Discrimination for Religious Reasons in Egypt." Internet. [Accessed 2 Feb. 1999]

United States, State Department, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labour Affairs. 22 July 1997. United States Policies in Support of Religious Freedom: Focus on Christians. Internet.