ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Persecuted Christians and other religious minorities gathered for an intimate coalition meeting on Saturday to share their people’s current suffering and formulate strategies to combat religious intolerance around the world.
Egyptian, Iraqi, and Lebanese Christian activists and scholars were among the speakers of the Coalition for the Defense of Human Rights (CDHR) meeting. They shared about the injustice and violence against Christians in their homeland where Islam is the dominant religion.
Representatives of the Coptic population, which are the Orthodox Christians of Egypt, spoke about incidents of forced conversion to Islam through rape, marriage, change of legal name, and violence.
A frustrated Cameel Halim, chairman of the Coptic Assembly of America, said the situation in Egypt has for too long been “hidden under the table” and “no one knows what is going on.”
Halim spoke about a recent incident in Egypt where a mob of Muslims in a small village torched Christian homes and shops injuring at least ten Coptic Christians after hearing rumors that a church was to be repaired or built in the village.
“I, as an Egyptian, only feel ashamed that building or repairing a church caused a mob to burn houses,” said Halim, calling on the Coalition to help expose the Coptic situation to Congress.
Copts comprise about 10 million of Egypt’s population of 77.5 million and is the largest group of Christians in the Middle East.
Other Coptic leaders spoke about the lack of unity and leadership among members both in Egypt and the United States that needs to be fixed before change can occur to the Coptic situation.
Michael Meunier, president of U.S. Copts Association, proposed that the Coptic community unite and agree to press the U.S. government on a specific agenda instead of all singly lobbying for different issues. He also called on more work to be done inside of Egypt such as supporting Copts to gain more political seats and training Christians on how to vote. Another point he encouraged was working alongside moderate Muslims on religious freedom advocacy.
Meanwhile, Peter BetBasoo of the Assyrian International News Agency shared about the horrendous living conditions of the 750,000 Iraqi Christians seeking refuge in Jordan where they can’t work legally and where some women are forced to become prostitutes to support their family.
BetBasoo also noted that many of the refugees are living five to seven people in a single room and spend almost all their time inside their home for fear of being deported.
As solution, he proposed giving Iraqi refugees legal status in Jordan so they can regain their self-esteem by working and not being a burden to the country.
Other guest speakers included: Kenneth Timmerman, president of the Middle East Data Project, Inc.; Tina Ramirez, office of Congressman Trent Franks (R- Ariz.); and Dr. Walid Phares, senior fellow and director for Future Terrorism Project at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy.
Hindus and Buddhists minorities also joined the meeting that was organized by the Rev. Dr. Keith Roderick, secretary general of the Coalition.