Coptic minorities fleeing religious persecution in Egypt

by Raymond Ibrahim

Private Papers

Lest you think that the U.S. court system has made humanitarian considerations its first priority, as evidenced by the recent court ruling to release from military custody Ali Saleh al Marri — an al-Qaeda sleeper agent who was trained in Osama bin Laden’s training camps — one need look no further than to the equally recent court decision to deport Sameh Khouzam, a Copt who (like many before him) fled the notorious religious persecution and torture chambers of Egypt nine years ago to seek asylum in the U.S., only to find that the legal system that is humane enough to release al Marri, a man whose sole purpose for being in the U.S. was to kill Americans,  plans on sending him, Khouzam, back to Egypt where he faces certain torture, if not death.   “It’s particularly outrageous when the record is replete with evidence that he [Khouzam] has been repeatedly tortured,” per one ACLU lawyer.

The Egyptian government accuses him of murder, though it has been unable to produce any evidence: “There is no autopsy report nor any physical evidence whatsoever of the alleged crime,” says Khouzam’s lawyer.  Despite this and although the Egyptian government is notorious for its human-rights abuses, the Department of Homeland Security tried justifying his forthcoming deportation by stating that they had sufficiently reliable “diplomatic assurances” from the Egyptian government that he would not be tortured upon return.  But as Jennifer Daskal of the Human Rights Watch puts it:  “Not only does the U.S. Sate Department’s own Country Report on Egypt describe torture in detention centers as ‘common and persistent,’ [and that Coptic minorities are discriminated against] but Egypt has breached assurances against such abuse in the past.”  Indeed, it is a fact that on at least two separate occasions, the Egyptian authorities have broken their promise not to torture returned fugitives.

The New York Times reports that Khouzam fled Egypt due to repeatedly being tortured for refusing to convert to Islam: “Mr. Khouzam said that from 1992 to 1998, various members of his family from Cairo were detained and tortured to force them to convert to Islam.” Sadly, Khouzam’s story is not an uncommon one. As anachronistic as forced conversions may seem to Western readers, the fact is that Egypt has a long history of, not only persecuting and discriminating against Copts, but also of coercing and black-mailing some Copts to convert to Islam.  This is increasingly common nowadays with Coptic girls who are often abducted and raped, and then, out of shame, are “offered” conversion and marriage to their Muslim abductors.  One such case resulted in mass demonstrations against the Egyptian government for its apathy or complicity in regards to this increasing phenomenon, when, in late 2004 no less than a Coptic priest’s wife was abducted, raped, and made to convert to Islam.  In regards to this event, the BBC noted that “[A]llegations of forced conversions [in Egypt] surface every year.”  And Michael Meunier, president of the U.S. Copts Association said, “Mubarak’s regime has not only ignored, but in many cases contributed to the alarming increase in anti-Coptic violence.”

The Copts are Egypt’s original inhabitants. They are among the earliest peoples to embrace Christianity; the Coptic Orthodox Church is one of the oldest churches in the world.   In 640 A.D., Egypt was conquered in the name of Islam. From then till now, the Copts have quietly suffered a number of injustices — from wholesale persecutions to discriminatory practices that, amazingly, are still enshrined in Egypt’s supposedly secular constitution, which clearly states that “Islam is the state religion” and that “the sharia [Islamic law] is a primary source of legislation.” (For example, sharia law mandates extremely draconic restrictions for building new — or just maintaining old — churches.  True to this, the Egyptian government has made it next to impossible for Copts to create places of worship.)

Regarding Khouzam, the New York Times further reports that “Human rights organizations…argue that the use of torture in Egypt is so routine and well-documented that deporting Mr. Khouzam would expose him to harsh treatment and would amount to a violation of the Convention Against Torture.  Under the convention, foreign citizens cannot be repatriated to countries where they stand a reasonable chance of being tortured [Article 3.1]”

Indeed, based on this convention, numerous radical Islamists associated with terrorism have been able to find sanctuary in Western countries, which often refuse to deport them back to their countries of origin (such as Egypt) due to the probable threat of torture.   Britain especially is infamous for this: a Taliban jihadist who fought U.S. and British forces in Afghanistan was granted asylum in Britain for fear of retaliation from the Western-backed Karzai government. For ten years Britain refused to deport terrorist Rachid Ramda — who was responsible for the killing of dozens in the airport bombings of Algiers and the 1995 Paris terror bombings — to France, of all places. Britain has also granted asylum to Mohammad al Masri, who is connected to al Qaeda’s European wing and is wanted by the Saudi government for terrorist related charges (while enjoying asylum benefits in Britain, al Masri would incite for jihad and post video-clips of civilian contractors being beheaded in Iraq on his personal website).

According to the Center of Immigration Studies six percent of all foreign born Muslims turned terrorists living in the U.S. are asylum-seekers—such as Ramzi Youssef who was involved in the 1993 World Trade Center attack and co-conspirator Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, the spiritual leader of many Egyptian radicals who once issued a fatwa endorsing the killing and plundering of Copts in Egypt to empower the jihad; also Mir Aimal Kansi who murdered a CIA employee.  (In related news, one Nasser Ahmed, a disciple of Abdul Rahman, who was recently released from detention has stated that he fully plans to revive the Abu Bakr mosque in New York where Abdul Rahman preached and which has been described by U.S. authorities as a “haven for terrorists.”)

Western lenience towards Muslims and intolerance towards non-Muslims even has a global face.  The U.S. has often been quick to act when Muslims are being killed by Christians (such as Kosovo, where, soon after Milosevic began targeting Muslim Albanians, the U.S. and NATO ruthlessly bombarded Serbian cities and Belgrade) while deploringly lagging when Christians are being exterminated by Muslims (such as in Darfur, where, since 2003 some 250,000 Christians and non-Muslims have been killed and millions dislocated by the Islamist government of Khartoum, while the international community watches).  Meanwhile, in the bizarre world of the U.S. court system, where it seems only radical Muslims who subscribe to an ideology that demands nothing less than the total destruction of the West are granted asylum and protection, Christian minority groups who have suffered innumerable atrocities from these same radicals are not.  After all, so goes the mindset and guilty conscious that permeates the liberal West, only Muslims are really persecuted in this world.

Of course none of this should overlook the seriousness of the murder charge leveled against Khouzam.  There is one glaring complication, however: not only has the Egyptian government not produced any evidence; but in demonstration of the utter ambiguity of the situation, the media sometimes describes the purported murder victim as a man, other times as a woman.  This disparity led me to do a little personal investigation, which in turn led me to one Samy Atwan, chief editor of the Arabic-English newspaper, The Immigrant’s Voice (one of the very few American newspapers that regularly reports the abuses Christian minorities suffer in predominantly Muslim countries, such as Egypt).  Atwan, who personally knows Khouzam and his lawyer, gives an interesting account:

According to Atwan, Khouzam fled Egypt after he spurned the advances of an apparently well-connected Muslim woman who wanted him to convert and marry her.  He sought asylum in the U.S., while the Egyptian government began accusing him of murdering that woman’s mother.  His own mother came to the U.S., where she was granted asylum, bringing with her material evidence that the woman he was accused of murdering was still alive.  His lawyers were sure of a court victory granting him permanent residency, but his court date was set for the week after 9/11/2001 — when, quite understandably, he was sent back into detention, though optimistic that at least he would not be sent back to Egypt.  Atwan insists that it is only recently that the Egyptian government “concocted” the allegation that he is wanted for murdering a man.  Atwan stresses that the spurned Muslim woman is well connected to the “mafia-like” Egyptian regime, and that this entire debacle revolves around trying to redeem her honor.  It is interesting to note that, while the Egyptian government is generally indifferent to the numerous crimes and murders committed in Egypt (as long as they are not directed against it), it is going to very great lengths to extradite this one lone Copt.

At any rate, based on all of the above facts — that the U.S. is not supposed to return asylum-seekers to countries where they stand a reasonable chance of being tortured according to the Convention Against Torture; that the U.S. regularly adheres to this convention when the asylum-seeker is Muslim, even if of dubious character; that there is little and conflicting evidence against Khouzam; that Egypt is a well-document torturer and violator of human-rights; that persecutions against Copts (including murders, rapes, and forced conversions) are well documented and go back centuries — considering all this, should Sameh Khouzam not at least get the benefit of our doubt?

Finally, even if Khouzam wasn’t going to be tortured or ill-treated in Egypt, it is a sure bet that he will now, due to the international stink and embarrassment for the Mubarak regime this issue has caused.

[Anyone interested in learning more about the plight of Sameh Khouzam, who may be deported back to Egypt as early as June 18th, is encouraged to contact Mr. Samy Atwan of The Immigrant’s Voice, at (610) 351-9146.]

Raymond Ibrahim is the editor of the Al-Qaeda Reader, translations of religious texts and propaganda.

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