Egyptian reveals Christian suffering

A former government official in Egypt is breaking the silence about official discrimination against Christians.

...Christians "suffer bad dealings," former Interior Ministry official Muhammad Al Ghanam, a Muslim, told Religion Today in a telephone conversation from Egypt. He said his phone line is tapped and that he is being followed by government agents.

..."Christians suffer twice," Ghanam said. Egyptian authorities sometimes inflict human rights abuses such as illegal detention and torture, but the Christians are singled out for discrimination because of their faith, he said. "They are in a bad situation and they really need help."

...Ghanam learned to appreciate Christians because he was treated fairly while studying law in Rome in the 1980s, he said. "Nobody bothered because I was a Muslim, so I don't accept the attitude of the Egyptian government that Christians should be discriminated against," he said.

...Christians are denied education, jobs, and government positions because bureaucrats impede their applications, Ghanam said. Obtaining government approval to build a church is virtually impossible, said Ghanam, who oversaw the applications. "It is a long and complicated process." He is meeting with human rights workers this week to discuss specific cases, he said.

... Ghanam is most critical of the Interior Ministry's handling of two incidents in the village of Al-Kosheh, where villagers said that police tortured hundreds of Christians to protect Muslims accused of killing two Christians in 1998.

...Government security forces also failed to protect Christians during riots in Al Kosheh in January, Ghanam said. Twenty-one Christians died and homes and businesses were burned after Muslims accused Christians of improper business dealings. Christians said local police incited the conflict and that additional security forces allowed Muslims to attack Christians, according to news reports. Two Christians had died when security forces arrived in Al Kosheh, Ghanam said, but "the number of dead increased to 20 after they came. This is a terrible thing."

...None of those accused have been punished, Ghanam said. The Interior Ministry is not investigating the complaints but is "burying its head in the sand" and accusing fictitious "external parties of creating sectarian problems," he wrote in an editorial published in the Middle East Times (see link #1 below). President Hosni Mubarak has taken no action against the Interior Ministry or the security forces, he said.

...Ghanam, 43, was a career public servant whose father and grandfather also served in the Interior Ministry. He ignored corruption and human rights abuses for years, and never spoke out until his father's death in 1997, The Associated Press (see link #2 below) reports.

...The negligent care his father received in a government hospital aroused his anger at a system of abuse and corruption, he said. He spoke up when the ministry falsely accused several Egyptian journalists who were critical of the Mubarak regime, a stand for which he lost his job, he said.

...He said he has become a marked man. His phones are tapped, he is followed by government agents, and there have been several attempts on his life, he said. He has sought refuge in Switzerland, but the government won't allow him to leave, claiming he has to face the charge of shooting a tax inspector.

...Ghanam said the charge is false and has produced a police report that says a gun the government claims he used is incapable of firing, said Joseph Assad of Freedom House (see link #3 below), a Washington, D.C.-based human rights group. The government is prosecuting the case slowly and Ghanam, a virtual prisoner in his home, is vulnerable to attacks, Assad said. "It increases our concern about his safety."

...Only international intervention can help Christians in Egypt, a Coptic priest said. "The Egyptian government needs to be moved by the international human rights community," the priest said, according to World Evangelical Fellowship (see link #4 below). "Silence strengthens the hand of those who persecute. If we remain silent, by the end of this century [Christianity] will no longer be a religion practiced widely in the Middle East."



Religion Today - July 7, 2000

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