Stealth, and serious attack on Egypt by U.S. congress, part 2: The sledgehammer legislation
Regional, Editorial, 5/13/1998
Tomorrow, the U.S. congress (House) will vote on House Resolution bill 2431 (Freedom From Religious Persecution Act) that deals with religious persecution. This bill is meant to punish countries if they allow religious persecution to take place. The punishment is varied, but it includes the illimination of U.S. Aid. This bill, we believe is targeted at the Arab states, and should not be adopted.
Everyone should oppose religious persecution. But this bill before the congress will have the opposite effect, by having religious groups get into fights blaming those minorities for loss of foreign aid, and worsening relations as opposed to making them better.
Specifically, Egypt, has been targeted for political pressure to conform to U.S. and Israeli foreign policy. One of the weapons those who are targeting Egypt want to use is the U.S. aid provided to Egypt as part of the Camp David agreement with Israel. The amount is about $2 billion worth, with 1.2 billion of that in military aid. Egypt has a per capita income about $3,000 with its large population,70 million, amounting to about $30 dollars per person per year of aid, as opposed to the aid that is given to Israel that amounts to about $1000 per year/per person for Israelis with an average income of about $18,000!
Israel's aid will always be protected by the congress as they shield Israel from everything else. But Egypt is at the heart and pillar of Arab political strength, and this legislation is extremely harmful to her as we will explain.
First, if you have not read part 1 of this story, you should do so now (see references). In it, you will find that there are groups that have accused Egypt falsely of religious persecution. You will hear that those accusation are false, from the Pope of the Egyptian Copts himself who the other groups claim is being persecuted.
In every country there is some sort of religious hatred, and that does not make this act common, or state sanctioned. The way to deal with religious bigotry and persecution is not by the government but through people to people efforts. The U.S. still has many problems of this sort, extended to inter-Christian groups. Catholics, Baptists and others can attest to the past and the present and peoples' feelings about others in the past and now. What makes a difference is organizational contact that aims to solve problems not exacerbate them. This bill does make things worse because it is collective punishment of the people of a country for the acts of the few.
If the intent of the bill was not to harm Egypt, then the bill would say that the government has to be proven guilty of discrimination, and not by a single individual, with no recourse for dispute. But the bill before the House assigns the power to decide who is guilty and who is not to the State Department, specifically an office to be created, and the head of that office can make the determination! A single person will be able to decide if the evidence presented against a country is sufficient. No courts, international courts or others.
This bill in essence becomes a political tool for the state department and the congress to play politics with religion. This will result in congress determining foreign policy, which is the main reason the president of the U.S. has promised to veto the bill if it makes it to his desk.
But those who are supporting the bill, may not be aware of its sinister effects. Their concerns are genuine about protecting religious liberty. The problem is that the "others" who have more sinister motives will use this bill to punish Arab states for political reasons rather than religious reasons as they have done in the past. Take a well motivated bill and turn it into a tool of foreign policy to hit the Arab states with.
This bill in its form should be opposed. If congress wants to protect religious liberties, this bill will not do it. This bill, is going to have the opposite effect, causing great resentment and all that comes with it in more persecution if any existed before. That may be what some would hope for anyway, as they always like to push the Arab states into a corner, and force them to react impulsively, causing more harm to their image and forcing a self-fulfiling prophesy.
This effort should be opposed, and concerned citizens should understand the true effect of this law. Efforts must be built to fight anti-Arab legislation in the U.S. Congress. We will give a guiding light to this effort as a community service, and we will, district by district, let those concerned know about how their representatives have voted on issues that concern them on a U.S. district by district bases.
The time has come to start building the machinery for effective lobbying, and voting on issues that are important to Arab-Americans, who never block voted on issues before, and are very independent in their voting pattern. The time has come to effect the process in a manner that a congressman can understand. We will make effort to make this effort a success if not now, in the near future, by bringing lots of light and guidance to our community, so that those who are vulnerable at the voting polls will have much to think about before taking Arab-American votes and concerns for granted and doing harm to their interests for no good reason.
Genuine liberty for practice of religion should be desired by all. But this bill takes a sledgehammer approach , and will absolutely have the opposite effect. The founders of the U.S. put the separation of religion and politics into the constitution for good reason. Now, well-intentioned politicians and groups and not so-well-intentioned politicians and groups are about to embark on a major mistake if they pass the bill in its current form. Those who are sincere about their efforts should listen carefully to Pope Shenouda and others who are directly effected by this, and have spoken clearly on the subject. If the bill needs rework to avoid the harm we outlined, it should be reworked to avoid this. As it is, the bill, including congressman Wolf's proposed modifications are not sufficient to fix this bill. Election time is not the time to play hasty politics with religious affairs that will effect those who are supposed to be helped by this bill in a negative manner.
The president by opposing this bill is right, and Arab-Americans who supported in the past many of the current Republican and Democratic congressmen who will be voting for this bill should start seriously thinking about who is doing what to them, and reconsider the many support they have given in the past, and start thinking in new ways. Republicans seem to like to have Arab-Americans' support and to insult them at the same time.
Let people solve religious problems at the level they exist, not the government, because government can't make you religious or act that way. Tolerance comes from understanding, interaction, friendship, and education efforts that should be increased.
A very-well-intentioned effort is about to have the opposite effect. It would be nice to see real and effective solutions to these problems that do exist in some places in the world. But this bill is not the solution. We hope that those who will vote on this bill will think about the further misery they will cause to those who have no one to help them right now, and will have given their oppressors more reasons to hate and oppress them. And these oppressors could care less about U.S. aid, as they have already proved by ignoring the existing sanctions on them!
This law will only punish those governments who are already doing a great job at keeping radicalism at bay, and serve them a nice blow for their good efforts by upsetting their citizens and undermining their efforts. This issue is counter intuative. Effective solutions are needed, not feel good solutions.
Note: This legislation if passed tomorrow, will have to be reconciled in the Senate with Senate resolution 772 (Freedom From Religious Persecution Act) that is yet to be put for a vote. Then , if both bills are adopted and reconciled in conference, the President would have to sign the bill to make it a law, or veto it as he said he would. Of course, the bill could be veto proof if passed by a 2/3 majority of the congress.
Stealth, and serious attack on Egypt by U.S. congress, part 1: Interview with Council Of Churches
Pope Shenouda: Arabs are always silent, satisfied with crying
Israel and U.S. use the minority card to pressure Egypt
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