Congress heard disturbing accounts last week of escalating abduction, coerced conversion and forced marriage of Coptic Christian women and girls. Those women are being terrorized and, consequently, marginalized, in the formation of the new Egypt.
Sadly, the vulnerability and abduction of Coptic Christians is not a new problem. Going back to the 1970s, when Anwar Sadat used Islamism to solidify his leadership of Egypt, Coptic women and girls have been abducted, forced to marry their captors, and coercively converted to Islam. No doubt, in some cases, women chose to elope, marry across religious lines and cut off relations with their families. Yet the Egyptian government’s claim that this is what has happened to every one of thousands of disappeared women and girls defies reason.
According to a new report, the second of two on this subject by George Washington University adjunct professor Michele Clark and Coptic human rights activist Nadia Ghaly, women and girls who are found indicate they were befriended by friends or relatives of their kidnappers, or the kidnappers themselves, drugged and then taken in a well-organized plan. Others, like a young mother who testified before the Helsinki Commission last week, were snatched by violent strangers in broad daylight. Her would-be abductor shouted to bystanders while dragging her to a waiting taxi, “No one interfere! She is an enemy of Islam.”
Ms. Clark’s report also indicates that after abduction, many who return home indicate that they were raped and told they could not go home because their families would never accept them back. Many are beaten; others are forced into domestic servitude. They are not allowed to leave where they are held without a member of their captor’s family keeping watch. They eventually are brainwashed into thinking the only way to be safe is to convert. Their families, who have been searching frantically for their daughters, sisters and wives — without any help from the police — often never discover their fate. The lucky ones find out via YouTube and other websites that their daughters are alive and have converted. While some conversions could be legitimate, overwhelming evidence points to abduction, forced marriage and coerced conversion persecuting the Coptic population.
According to Ms. Clark’s latest research, based on a survey of four lawyers in Egypt over a five-year period, they saw at least 550 cases of disappearances and petitions to restore Christian identity following abductions, forced marriages and forced conversions. Alarmingly, since the revolution, cases of reported disappearance have increased, while recovery of women and girls has decreased. Those women who escape or are found by their families face obstacles to justice and closure. In many cases, the government refuses to reinstate their Christian identity on national identity cards, which seems to sanction coerced conversions. I am not aware of any case, either before or after the revolution, in which an abductor has been prosecuted.
If President Mohammed Morsi wants Egypt to be inclusive, he must do more than appoint a Copt and a woman as his vice presidents, as he claims he will do. He must ensure true justice for Copts — full and equal protection under the law. The Egyptian government must perform its basic responsibility to protect all its citizens.
One protestor of Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton’s recent visit to Egypt carried a sign that said, “Obama, don’t send your dollars to jihadists.” Congress sent a similar message with the 2012 Consolidated Appropriations Act, which required the secretary to certify that Egypt was implementing policies to protect freedom of religion before we released $1.3 billion in aid. Yet an unnamed senior State Department official reported to Reuters, “On the basis of America’s national security interests, [Mrs. Clinton] will waive legislative conditions related to Egypt’s democratic transition, allowing for the continued flow of ‘Foreign Military Financing’ to Egypt.”
This is a terrible mistake. Until the Egyptian government protects Coptic women and girls from abduction, coerced conversion, forced marriage and other abuses, we should use every tool in our policy kit, including our massive aid program, to encourage it to do so. The Copts must be free to participate in the formation of the new Egypt and not marginalized through terror.
Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican, is chairman of the U.S. Helsinki Commission.