Lawmakers Eye Religious Freedom in Egypt, Turkey

Religious freedom overseas has been on the minds of Members of Congress this week. Egypt is facing particular scrutiny as lawmakers follow the continuing changes in Cairo. In its end-of-year legislation to keep the federal government funded, the U.S. House of Representatives laid out key conditions for American financial aid to Egypt. First, this bill makes any aid contingent on the Secretary of State first certifying that the new Egyptian government is living up to its obligations under the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty. Also, for Egypt to receive any military funding under this legislation, Secretary Hillary Clinton would need to certify “that the Government of Egypt is supporting the transition to civilian government including holding free and fair elections; implementing policies to protect freedom of expression, association, and religion, and due process of law.” Notably, Representative Frank Wolf (R-VA) recently chaired a hearing before the House of Representatives' Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission focusing on threats to religious freedom in Egypt, with particular focus on dangers to Coptic Christian Egyptians. Citing escalating violence and discrimination against Coptic Christians, Chairman Wolf stated: “[I]n the last 50 plus years, Egypt has effectively been emptied of Jews. And, I fear the same fate may await the Coptic community.”

Turkey has also been in the spotlight. Earlier this week the House of Representatives adopted a resolution, sponsored by Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), calling on the Secretary of State to emphasize that the Turkish government should end all forms of religious discrimination, allow Christians to gather for worship and service, and return confiscated church properties to their rightful owners. The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) has Turkey on its 2011 Watch List and states, “The Turkish government’s limitations on freedom of religion or belief threaten the continued vitality and survival of minority religious communities in Turkey.” 

  • Find out more about the House hearing on the plight of Coptic Christians.
  • Read USCIRF’s summary on religious freedom in Turkey.