Religious freedom does not exist in Egypt, says Coptic lawyer


In the wake of the Christmas Eve shootings of Egyptian Coptic Christians by a group of Muslims,  Coptic attorney Caroline Doss has planned a rally at the United Nations in protest, telling CNA that religious freedom “does not exist” in Egypt.

“Technically speaking, the Constitution does allow freedom of religion but practically speaking it does not exist,” she said Tuesday. “There is a huge difference between the way the laws are applied to Christians and Muslims in Egypt.”

Doss is organizing a rally in New York City on Jan. 19  to send a “clear message” to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak “that failing to prosecute crimes against Coptic Christians is inexcusable” and to “send a message to President Obama here that there is persecution in Mubarak's land.”

An anticipated 2,000 – 4,000 people are expected to participate in the upcoming rally.

Doss continued to explain to CNA the hurdles that exist for Christians in Egypt, particularly the difficulty of being able to build churches there, as well as the documented punishment of those who convert from Islam to Christianity. 

“To get permission to build a new church you need a presidential decree,” stated Doss, who also lamented that “if you wanted to convert, for example, from Islam to Christianity you could not legally do so.” In fact, Doss claimed, “there are clear reports of converts to Christianity who have been taken into detention by state security officials” and have been “tortured and raped.”

“If you look at the last (U.S.) State Department report, which was issued October 26, 2009, it cites several examples of Christians who were detained, tortured, beaten, questioned, at the very least, jailed, for converting from Islam to Christianity,” Doss asserted.

“So, is there practically religious freedom? No. Absolutely not.”

However, converting from Christianity to Islam, says Doss, poses no issue. According to her, the Egyptian government has “no problem switching your name over, switching your identity documents over to reflect your new religion,” should one choose to convert to Islam. 

Doss also spoke to CNA on the motivations behind the recent Muslim drive-by shooting, clarifying the multiple explanations that have circulated in the media on why the shootings occurred.

According to Doss, in November of 2009 an allegation that Coptic man raped a 12 year-old Muslim girl surfaced. In response to this, a group of Muslims “looted, burned and destroyed” several Christian homes and businesses. The government then scheduled a reconciliation meeting between the Muslims and Christians, which would have addressed the issue of the damaged property. However, according to Doss, Coptic Bishop Kiroloss—the intended target of the most recent shooting—would not participate.

“The bishop refused to sit down in the reconciliation meeting and refused to reconcile differences with the Muslims because this is a repeat offense,” said Doss, who claimed that there are “many examples of mob attacks by Muslims against Christians.”

Doss asserted that so called reconciliation meetings “are basically a way to divert Christians from the judicial system” as a way to prevent them from obtaining justice.

In essence, “it was actually one allegation, that led to riots and the victimization of Copts, and then our refusal to reconcile after that, led to this attack,” explained Doss.

When asked about the 1,000 Coptic Christians who rioted and clashed with police in Egypt last Thursday, Doss said, “I'm not surprised.”

Allegedly, the altercation came about when police delayed in releasing the shooting victims' bodies to the community. “The police at first did not want to release the bodies of the victims to the families so that they could bury them,” said Doss, “and in response to that, the families in anger, did demand that they release the corpses.”

“It doesn't sound like something unreasonable when you have a massacre like that and the police on top of it all tend to detain the deceased so that the victims families can't put them to rest,” she continued. “It's not unusual that they would be angered that they be detaining these bodies.”

The rally that Doss is organizing will take place at the United Nations on Jan. 19 from 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. and then move to the Egyptian Mission from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m.

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