Egypt's Christians Think U.S. Is Backing Muslim Brotherhood, Congressman Warns

By Patrick Goodenough | March 8, 2013 | 4:54am EST

Coptic Bishop Anba Moussa, a close advisor to Coptic Pope Tawadros II, told Rep. Frank Wolf that the Coptic community in Egypt was fearful about its future. (Photo: Dan Scandling)

( – A Republican congressman who recently returned from a Mideast visit warns of eroding U.S. credibility, citing a perception among Egyptians that the Obama administration is supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and employing a double standard by overlooking abuses, especially those targeting minority Christians.

Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.), a veteran religious freedom advocate, visited the region to hear first-hand the concerns of Christians about their future amid turmoil in their countries.

In a report on his trip, he urged the administration to pursue policies emphasizing the need to protect minority rights, particularly in its dealings with Egypt’s new government and the anti-Assad opposition in Syria.

In Egypt, Wolf reported that apart from his interaction with government officials, “no one painted a rosy picture for the future of Egypt.”

“In fact, many suggested that life was better under [ousted former president Hosni] Mubarak. I was repeatedly told that the new government led by President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood is ignoring women’s rights, human rights and religious rights.”

Wolf witnessed the perception that the U.S. is backing the Muslim Brotherhood. (Secretary of State John Kerry heard the same complaints during his recent visit to Cairo, as did his predecessor before him.)

“I was told people think the United States is developing relationships with the Muslim Brotherhood because it believes the party is going to remain in power,” Wolf said. “[T]he feeling is that as long as the Brotherhood protects the United States’ interests in the region, it can act with impunity within its borders.”

Wolf met with Copts and other Christians, and heard about at atmosphere of intolerance towards Christians and women, regularly fostered in television programming.

“Churches have been desecrated, and no permits to build new churches have been granted since January 2011,” he said. January 2011 marked the start of the protests that led by Mubarak’s departure.

“By most accounts, U.S. policy has not evolved to meet the new realities in Egypt,” Wolf said. “We have embraced the Morsi government the same way we embraced the Mubarak government to the detriment of other elements of Egyptian civil society – elements with which we have a natural affinity.

“While such groups may not take the reins of leadership in the near future, they are central to the Egyptian democratic experiment, and we can bolster their standing and effectiveness if we take the long-term view.”

Noting that Egypt has received more than $60 billion in U.S. foreign assistance over three decades, Wolf called for changes in the way aid is given.

“Given the Mubarak regime’s human rights and religious freedom abuses, I have long believed this assistance should be conditioned on improvements in these areas,” he said. “Now with the Muslim Brotherhood at the helm, and the transition to a mature democracy with all that entails far from certain, I am more convinced than ever that aid to Egypt must be conditioned upon the government respecting and upholding universally recognized human rights norms.”

Clear benchmarks should be set to determine whether Egypt really is moving in the right direction. Also, the waiver authority built into existing legislation relating to aid to Egypt should be removed, Wolf said, “since the State Department, without fail and irrespective of changes on the ground, uses the waiver.”

Opposition to Assad alone should not bring U.S. support

Wolf acknowledged the complexities of the Syria situation – although he also charged that the administration missed an opportunity early in the crisis to help the opposition “at a time when the conflict had not yet devolved into a proxy war and when international jihadists were not as significant of a factor as they are today.”

Wolf met in Lebanon with Christian and Muslim refugees from Syria, including a Christian couple who told him that only 400 Christians remain in Damascus, most too old to flee.

“They described some in the Free Syrian Army as terrorists, including foreign fighters from countries like Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen and Egypt,” he said.

“Bashar al-Assad is a brutal dictator and war criminal,” Wolf said, but added that “the West must be clear-eyed about who the rebels are, and what they will do if they seize power.”

As the administration develops Syria policy, “it must be ever mindful of the very real concerns of Syria’s Christian community,” he said.

“Opposition to Assad should not be enough to garner American support. A common enemy does not our friend make. Any aid to the rebels, non-military or otherwise, must be accompanied by insistence that the opposition respect minority rights and allay the very real fears of these communities. This is especially important given the influx of foreign jihadists and the ambiguity surrounding their influence and numbers among the opposition.”

Special envoy

Wolf urged church leaders in the West to speak out about what is happening not just in Syria and Egypt, but across the region, citing the plight of Christians in Iraq too.

If the Middle East “is effectively emptied of the Christian faith, this will have grave geopolitical implications and does not bode well for the prospects of pluralism and democracy in the region,” he said.

For the past two years Wolf has been pushing legislation to establish a special envoy to promote religious freedom in the Middle East and South-Central Asia. It passed in the House with strong bipartisan support in mid-2011 but stalled in the U.S. Senate last year.

When it passed the House in 2011 a Muslim Brotherhood leader in Egypt warned it would bring more U.S. “interference” in Egypt’s affairs. Christian activists in Pakistan welcomed the move.

Wolf attributed the Senate holdup to then-Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), whose spokesman told at the time that the State Department advised Webb appointing an envoy would be “unnecessary, duplicative, and likely counterproductive.”

Wolf also said Kerry, then-chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, had disregarded his requests for a hearing on the matter.

“I am disappointed in Senator Webb for having put a hold on this bill and preventing it from moving, despite the obvious need for renewed attention to this issue and the very fact that not one Democrat voted against the House-passed bill,” Wolf wrote to then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last October.

“I am particularly disheartened by Chairman Kerry’s lack of action – despite my repeated requests for a vote or hearing.”

Wolf reintroduced the bill last January.

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