Human rights violations are on the rise in many countries. People are being persecuted, tortured and killed for no reason other than their religion. However, we, the American voters, have not had a chance to hear what the presidential candidates plan to do regarding this critical issue. It is time the candidates define their stance on the following matters:
â€¢ The State Department's report on international religious freedom documents severe persecution of religious minorities â€” notably Christians â€” in a number of Middle Eastern countries, such as Egypt. At the same time, some immigrants from countries that practice persecution not only enjoy complete freedom of religion in America, but often use it to lobby against U.S. policies that call for religious tolerance in their native countries. Our next president must not let their intolerance be imported into the United States. He must ensure that our policy is to promote freedom and tolerance in other countries.
â€¢ President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and other politicians deny that the Christian population in Egypt suffers any persecution. Mr. Mubarak thumbs his nose at the United States, saying these are internal affairs and it is not our business to interfere. He forgets that Egypt is legally bound by U.N. human rights declarations to respect the human rights of all citizens. He is concerned only with getting the more than $2 billion dollars of foreign aid the United States gives every year. We must elect a president who is able to put Mr. Mubarak's feet to the fire to make him understand that the United States means business when we talk about human rights.
â€¢ Some feel that in places such as China, Egypt and Turkey, the United States is putting U.S. economic interests above human rights issues. We must choose a candidate who will bring changes to U.S. foreign policy regarding these issues. The next administration must rank human rights above our economic interests.
â€¢ The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom wrote to Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright on July 28 to recommend that Saudi Arabia be listed among "countries of particular concern" under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Saudi Arabia has funded numerous mosques, Islamic centers and Islamic schools here in the United States and is considered a reliable U.S. ally. Yet, it refuses to allow Americans and other foreign nationals living and working in Saudi Arabia to meet in their own homes for prayer or even to carry a Bible into the country. One Christian recently reported that his personal Bible was put into a shredder once he entered customs. The next president must deal with Saudi Arabia regarding these issues.
â€¢ Members of Congress already have seen a petition signed by more than 3,000 foreign nationals in Saudi Arabia asking for their basic rights. We must elect a president who is willing to press King Fahd to announce publicly that Christians are guaranteed these three basic rights: to meet with other Christians in their own homes, to bring in Bibles and Christian literature for their own use and to have clergymen from outside the country come in and provide religious instruction.
â€¢ The next president must be able to work with U.S. allies to influence them to watch carefully for and act upon human rights violations against Christian minorities in countries such as Egypt.
â€¢ We must choose a candidate who will take measures to deny immigration quotas or visitors visas for those countries that violate the International Religious Freedom Act. The United States must defend and support the IRFA and encourage private companies and other countries to do the same.
â€¢ The number of Christians is decreasing rapidly in the Middle East because of different forms of persecution by governments and Muslim extremists. The next president must lead the United States in helping them.
In short, we must elect a president for whom securing human rights is a personal value that would drive his foreign policy decisions.
NAGI A. KHEIR
Spokesman, American Coptic Association
Member of the International Coptic Congress
Director of Middle East Affairs, Advocates International