WOLF ISSUES REPORT FOLLOWING VISIT TO MIDDLE EAST DURING TUMULTUOUS TIME OF CHANGE IN THE REGION
Renews Call for Special Envoy to Advocate for Beleaguered Minority Faith Communities, Which are Increasingly Under Assault
Washington, D.C. (March 7, 2013) – Rep. Frank Wolf today made a series of policy recommendations – including his continued push for the creation of a Special Envoy for Religious Minorities in the Middle East and South Central Asia – following a recent trip to Lebanon and Egypt, where he met with high-ranking government officials, religious leaders, humanitarian aid organizations and refugees who have fled Syria.
The recommendations are included in a 14-page report detailing the trip. Titled “First the Saturday People, Then the Sunday People: The Exodus of Jews and Christians from the Middle East,” the report is set against the backdrop of historic and tumultuous change in the broader Middle East. The primary focus of Wolf’s trip was to talk to the Syrian Christian community as well as other religious minorities in the region. He wanted to hear firsthand about their concerns and what the future might hold. He also wanted to put this issue in the larger context of an imperiled Christian community in the broader Middle East, specifically in Egypt and Iraq. Wolf came away deeply troubled by what he heard and alarmed at what amounted to the changing face of the Middle East.
The report details the virtual elimination of once vibrant Jewish communities in countries like Egypt and Iraq, and cautions that a similar fate may await the Christian communities in these same lands. The report’s title reflects this sobering reality.
While in Lebanon, Wolf met with both Christian and Muslim families who had crossed the border from Syria. He also toured the offices of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is leading the humanitarian response in Lebanon, and visited two locations where refugees are now living.
Wolf said there is no easy solution to the tragedy that is unfolding in Syria, especially after hearing from many of the people he talked to that dynamics changed with the arrival of foreign fighters. Wolf was told men from Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen and Egypt are now fighting in Syria. There have been press reports that jihadists from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Iraq are also in Syria.
Wolf said the Syrian Christians he met with all encouraged the church in the West to speak out on their behalf.
In Egypt, Wolf met with one of the last remaining Jews in the country, leaders in the Coptic Christian community, civil society activists and Egyptian government officials, including the prime minister.
Except for his meetings with Egyptian officials, no one painted a rosy picture for the future of Egypt, and many were critical of the United States’ perceived support for the Muslim Brotherhood. He was told the United States was losing credibility and appeared to have double standards when it came to freedoms in America versus freedoms in other countries.
Wolf reported that the perception among opposition leaders and the minority community was that as long as the Muslim Brotherhood looked out for U.S. interests in the region it could act with impunity within its own borders. He was told “the United States is helping create a state of terrorism that will be exported to Europe. The dogma of religion affecting human rights and women’s rights will be worse than the Wahhabi sect in Saudi Arabia.”
Wolf cautioned that if the Middle East is effectively emptied of the Christian faith it will have grave geopolitical implications. He urged policymakers not to underestimate the impact of this demographic shift on the prospects for pluralism and democracy in the Middle East. He also stressed that these ancient faith com¬munities “have inhabited these lands for centuries, and are a vital part of the fabric of global Christendom.” He urged church leaders in the West to speak out about what is happening not only in Syria, but in the Middle East as a whole, and recommended that Christian leaders from the Middle East be brought to the United States to make the case for greater engagement from the American faith community. In January, Wolf wrote to more than 300 Protestant and Catholic leaders in the U.S. urging them to use their influence to speak out on behalf of the persecuted church around the globe, specifically in the Middle East.
Wolf has been pushing since January 2011 to establish a high-level Special Envoy at the State Department with the dedicated mission of protecting and preserving religious minority communities in the Middle East and South Central Asia. The House by a vote of 402-20 in July 2011 approved creating the position, but the effort stalled in the Senate. Wolf has reintroduced this bipartisan legislation in the 113th Congress.
Regarding Egypt, Wolf said the United States should seriously consider conditioning its foreign assistance, specifically military assistance.
“Since the Camp David Peace Accords, Egypt has received over $60 billion in U.S. foreign assistance, the second-largest overall recipient of such funding,” Wolf said. “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. 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.”
Wolf said the United States must press President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood more broadly to respect and uphold religious freedom, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of assembly and other basic rights. Police reform, too, must be a priority, he said.
“Rather than ramming through the constitution, the Muslim Brotherhood must be urged to embrace an inclusive process that takes into account the concerns of the opposition and various minority groups,” Wolf said. “Clear benchmarks must be set – and ?an agreed upon framework established – ?that allows policymakers in the U.S. to determine if Egypt is truly on a path to reform.”
Wolf also recommended that Congress consider removing altogether the State Department waiver authority as it relates to aid to Egypt, since the State Department, without fail and irrespective of changes on the ground, uses the waiver.
Wolf said The U.S. embassy should actively seek to cultivate relationships with the liberal, democratic Egyptian opposition groups and individuals, human rights groups, Coptic Christians and other key civil society actors.
“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. In this same vein, aid to Egypt should once again benefit Egyptian civil society, not simply the military and economy.”
Wolf said congressional delegations traveling to Egypt should meet with activists, NGOs and Christian leaders to better understand what is happening on the ground and to hear firsthand the perception of the United States’ support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
The full report can be found here.