Congressman Trent Franks Calls for Change in Status Quo in Egypt

Calls on Egyptian Government to Address Human Rights Problems

May 7, 2009 – Congressman Trent Franks (AZ-02), a member of the Executive Committee on the Congressional Human Rights Commission, gave the following statement regarding today’s hearing on Human Rights in Egypt.

Congressman Franks stated:

The United States and Egypt have enjoyed a strong bi-lateral relationship for several decades now, with Egypt hailed as a democratic ally of the United States in the Middle East, and as such has received nearly $2 billion in foreign assistance annually. At the same time, the State Department annually reports on how Egypt’s human rights record remains poor and the religious freedom situation continues to decline, yet our relationship remains at the status quo.

In the past week, the Egyptian government is reportedly moving forward with the slaughter of thousands of swine (pigs) despite criticism by the World Health Organization that this is unnecessary for fighting the A(H1-N1) flu strain. This is very disconcerting as the swine industry provides a livelihood for thousands of swine breeders, nearly all of whom are Coptic Christians which already face extreme difficulties as a minority religious community living in Egypt.

After more than two years, Abdel Kareem Amer, the first blogger to be sentenced, remains in prison, setting a very disturbing precedent for others that would speak out in defense of human rights and religious freedom throughout Egypt.

Kamilia Lotfy Gaballah lost custody of her 14-year-old twins Andrew and Mario Medhat Ramses to their father, a Muslim convert, contrary to Article 20 of Egypt’s Personal Status Law, which states children should remain with their mother until age 15.

There have been over 300 cases of alleged kidnappings involving the forced marriage and conversion of Coptic girls filed by a prominent Egyptian human rights lawyer that the Egyptian government has not addressed or brought to justice, such as Ingy Atef Kamel reportedly being held in Kafr El Sheikh.

While Egyptian law purportedly protects the three “heavenly religions” – Islam, Judaism, and Christianity – Kareem’s case proves that not even professing Muslims are safe from archaic laws frequently used to harass and intimidate average Egyptian citizens, whether in cases of expression, custody, conversion, and more. Too often, government officials claim they cannot interfere with cases where such laws are involved despite the fact that the laws are inconsistent with international norms and are being used to justify restrictions on the most basic human rights.

If Egypt is to be a model of democracy in the Middle East, it must first be a country where the rights fundamental in any democracy are flourishing – this includes the right to religious freedom. It is increasingly difficult for us as Members of Congress to justify our support for a government that is stifling the voices that would help sustain its own democracy to our constituents.

The status quo is not acceptable and must change.

We have a distinguished group of witnesses with us today and I am honored to be here to hear their testimonies. I am particularly interested in hearing what our panelists think about how the United States can encourage greater respect for human freedom in Egypt through our bi-lateral relationship.

Thank you.

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