The Dialogue Between the Copts And the Egyptian Government

March 20, 2006

By Magdi Khalil

Recently, many have been wondering about the intentions of the expatriate Copts: do they stand in favor of holding a constructive dialogue with the Egyptian government, as a means to resolve Coptic issues? And given the fact that they have objected, each time, when a Copt became involved in a dialogue with the government, or the Security and Intelligence Services, then what is the purpose of their political activity?
Actually, the Copts, whether in Egypt or abroad, are not against this dialogue; quite the contrary, they have been actively seeking it. In fact, for the past three decades, the uninterrupted flood of letters and petitions addressed to the government could be considered as a form of dialogue-even if one sided. In other words, the Copts are not at war with the state or the regime, and they firmly believe in the value of dialogue, as a natural and appropriate means of conflict resolution.
However, the state has not responded to any of the attempts made by the Coptic community – local or expatriate – to hold a sincere dialogue. It has consistently ignored their just demands hoping that they will finally resign themselves to accepting the status quo.

The idea of an interactive political dialogue does not appeal to the Egyptian government, as it might very well lead to undesirable consequences such as the restoration of Coptic rights; and the government is clearly not ready for that.
As an alternative, the government has opted – in the past as well as the present time – to infiltrate the local and expatriate Coptic communities, lure the odd few and – in exchange for certain personal benefits – gain their assistance in the campaign to justify the discriminatory policies against the Copts.
Individual infiltration is the perfect choice in that case, because the state is well aware of the difficulty of infiltrating a select group that is versed in the basics of political action and dialogue, and that can effectively represent the Coptic community. It is a win-win situation for the government: the lured activists are no longer active, so it is one less thing for the government to worry about; the situation creates divisions among the Copts which adversely affects the Coptic community and inspires more frustration and despair; and finally the personal benefits might attract others to join in.

The Local Coptic Community and the Government

The Egyptian government is perfectly aware of Coptic problems and demands since several Egyptian and international associations have made available a number of extensive studies about the Coptic situation. The local community has offered the government a comprehensive review of the Copts’ status; the most memorable – among many – being Meriett Boutros Ghali’s memorandum, which was presented to the Egyptian government in January 1979 and failed to elicit any response.
A few years earlier, in 1972, a People’s Assembly committee, led by Gamal Oteify (Deputy Speaker of the People’s Assembly at that time) produced an objective report that has, unfortunately, met the same fate. Apparently, the government only meant to ease the soaring tension caused by al-Khanka incident before the October War was to take place, and did not plan on giving due consideration to the committee’s findings.
Pope Shenouda, along with the Holy Synod and the Coptic Community Council presented a list of Coptic complaints during a Coptic clergy conference that was held on December 17, 1976 in Alexandria. Three similar memos were once more presented in February 1977, eliciting an aggressive response as the government considered it a transgression deserving punishment. In September 1981, the Pope paid for that perceived transgression as he was detained in the monastery for 40 months.
During President Mubarak’s era, the Copts’ attempts at a dialogue were met with complete disregard. A proposal for a Common Personal Status Law for Christians from all denominations was ready and approved by the leaders of those denominations more than 20 years ago, yet the government has refused to consider it. It was reintroduced and amended in 1999, at the request of the People’s Assembly, but with the same results, as the government still refuses to consider it.
In the same category fall the efforts of the late Antoun Sidhom, and later those of Youssef Sidhom as he has, for more than five years, incessantly called on the government to have an open dialogue with the local Coptic community, through his weekly column in Watani newspaper. When I inquired whether he has ever received a response to those fervent calls, he said that he did not, and that has propelled him recently to address his call to the Egyptian civil society, as the government seems all but deaf to the Copts’ entreaty.

The Government and the Expatriate Coptic Community
For more than three decades, the expatriate Copts, such as Shawki Karas, Selim Naguib, Adly Abadir and others, have been sending dozens of letters and appeals to senior officials in Egypt. They met with ambassadors, and delivered their requests over and over again, but received no response. Other than being totally ignored, the most they got were vacant verbal promises that amounted to nothing, whether they were delivered through diplomats, ministers, or public figures.
The Coptic magazine whose editor-in-chief was the late Dr. Shawki Karas, commented on that sad fact: “We should not place our trust in promises, and should not relent until we see actual actions; we should not be deterred by what they say about inconvenience and “the time not being right” for those kind of demands; the matter of correcting wrongs and removing injustice should not be delayed under any circumstances. The Copts are part of Egypt, and their demands for an equal status with the majority should not depend on the approval of a group which preaches a doctrine that conflicts with human rights”.(1)
Frustration and despair must have dictated those words: “I think we’re doing an injustice to the Copts in Egypt when we choose to raise our complaints to government officials!”.(2)
The government follows a predictable strategy with the expatriate Copts, playing on two strings: mollification and infiltration, as a “divide and conquer” approach meant to bring the Coptic movement down. As for outsiders, the government opts for ambiguity and/or outright lies.
A few of us were meeting with the US Senator Sam Brownback in 1999, when he told us that President Mubarak was constantly not telling them the truth regarding the Coptic situation, and that our only hope was to unite and work diligently to reveal the truth to the international community.
Following “El-Kosheh” tragedy in 2000, an Egyptian delegation led by Gamal Mubarak visited the United States. They wished to convey that the massacre was nothing more than an ordinary dispute that cost the lives of both Muslims and Christians. The delegation met with the American Senator Frank Wolfe, and a member of the delegation informed me about what transpired during that meeting. After listening carefully to the delegation, the American senator asked his assistant to put on a videotape that documented the tragic reality of the Coptic situation, and gave them a list with the names of 604 Copts that were killed during the 90s. He rebuked the Coptic member of the delegation, saying: “shame on you, how could you defend this regime!” and warned him not to fall for their deception again.

This is how the Egyptian government typically deals with the West, by feeding it one lie after the other, and by using a number of Coptic businessmen, thinkers and public figures to promote those lies. One such businessman is Ramy Lakah who used to pay huge sums of money to publish advertisements in the Washington Post that deny the reality of Coptic persecution. Later, Lakah regretted his actions, when the government turned on him and ruined his business completely. Truth be told, Coptic businessmen are facing a difficult situation because they know that Security and Intelligence Services have the power to wreck their business in a few days. I am aware of several cases where those who dared to challenge the tyrant and his cronies have paid quite a heavy price for their defiance.

The government keeps devising new means to mollify and deceive the Copts, locally and abroad, and Dr. Osama El-Baz is renowned for his brilliant use of those strategies. The idea to appoint a Coptic Minister of Immigration was basically meant to appease the expatriate Copts. Another instance where the government tried to placate the Copts was in 1998, when a delegation formed by Youssef Sidhom, Mounir Fakhri Abdel Nour and Morad Moheb Estino held several meetings with congressmen in the United States. The purpose of the visit was to state, in no uncertain terms, that they do not accept any foreign interference in Egypt’s affairs. This visit took place during the discussion of the “Freedom from Religious Persecution” law.
The three members contacted the chairmen of Coptic associations and asked them to stop their campaign against the regime for a few months in exchange for governmental promises. The Coptic associations responded to their request, but months later, the promises remained unfulfilled, and they recognized that it was another deception.
Dr. Milad Hanna was supposed to go as well, but he refused to go with nothing but empty hands or empty promises, as he didn’t relish embarrassing himself. He would go, he said, if he has, in his hands, a verdict to annul the Hamayouni Decree, or a decision to add 20-30 Coptic candidates to the National Democratic parliamentary list. “I got no response,” he said, “it seems that Minister Youssef Boutros Ghali was expecting a cheery response, the kind that some Copts are adept at delivering”, adding “the ingenious Osama El-Baz stands behind the state’s decision to select three young and successful Coptic businessmen”.(3)

The pacification strategies also included the creation of associations within and without Egypt, mostly under the supervision of security services; those were meant to serve as a statement that everything is as it ought to be in Egypt. The associations only became active whenever a serious incident severely affected the Copts, as a means to placate them, and not in pursuit of a real and lasting resolution.
One such association is the Committee of National Unity that is chaired by Ibrahim Nafee, the Egyptian pro-government journalist. The funny thing is that Egyptians in Washington thought to support this association and held a fundraising event where they managed to raise $ 17,000. Dr. Roshdy Saeed delivered the funds to the association’s executives in Cairo, as a contribution to the rebuilding operation of the Coptic village “Kafr Demian” that was destroyed by extremists. Needless to say the village was not rebuilt and no one knows what became of the money.

For ten years I have been a personal witness of several governmental attempts either at mollification or infiltration that I am presenting herein as honestly and accurately as possible, so that the Copts may understand the lessons learned from those experiences, and safeguard themselves against future infiltration. I hope that this presentation will also help them understand the Egyptian regime’s ploy to shatter their efforts and drain their energy. There are certainly many other attempts that I’m not aware of, but I will only give record of those which I have personally witnessed.

The First Attempt
In 1997, Seif El Din El Ashmawy – brother of Counselor Mohamed Saeed El Ashmawy – was presenting a weekly radio show in New Jersey in collaboration with a Christian priest and a Jewish Hakham. He asked me about our requests, saying: “Why don’t you present those demands to the government in an Egyptian-Egyptian dialogue instead of this ongoing war,” adding “could you persuade the prominent Coptic activists and chairmen of Coptic organizations to hold this dialogue, and present your demands freely? And I will serve as a mediator with the government.” I told him that I believed that the Copts would not reject a genuine dialogue that follows the norms of political dialogue. I contacted the chairmen of Coptic organizations at that time, through the late Dr. Shawky Karas, and they expressed their willingness to proceed with this action as long as it is a serious alternative that would allow us to discuss our demands freely and frankly.
Seif El Ashmawy went back with his idea to the Egyptian Embassy, but they refused it, and instead persuaded him to accompany a delegation from New York’s churches in a visit to Egypt, where they will be expected to make a statement denying Coptic persecution. At that time, the United States was about to issue the Religious Freedom Law, and Egypt did not wish to be included among the states that have committed violations against these freedoms. But the fates willed otherwise, as Seif El Ashmawy passed away suddenly in the aftermath of a painful accident, and his wife – Maria – decided to carry on his mission and accompany the delegation to Egypt, where she received a hearty welcome from the Egyptian government, the media, and the Prime Minister. She was duly impressed and it came as a shock to her, when, once the visit was over, the Egyptian government completely ignored her. She and her husband had completed their mission, and therefore there remained no reason for the government to care anymore. Unfortunately, this is how the security agencies usually deal with people, a jubilant welcome that soon turns into frigid neglect once they outlive their usefulness, reject mobilization attempts, or refuse to continue to offer the required services.

The Second Attempt

In 1998, Dr. Zarif Bacilious– a professor at St. John’s University in New York and former dean of the Faculty of Education – met with President Hosni Mubarak in Cairo. The meeting’s purpose was to inform the President about the university’s decision to award him an Honorary Doctorate on his next visit to the States. During the meeting, President Mubarak asked him to bring together the emigrants in the States – Muslims and Copts – in a body that would foster communication between the two countries, and relay their requests to the Egyptian government. Thus, Dr. Bacilious, joined by a group of Muslims and Copts, created “the Egyptian American Council”, in coordination with the Egyptian Embassy and Consulate in New York. Mr. Saeed Qurani – an Intelligence man – served as a link between both parties; he introduced himself as Counselor Qurani – a title favored by intelligence men working in Egyptian embassies abroad. After a few sessions, it became obvious that the council was created to tone down the hot issues, and that Mr. Qurani was taking full control of the council. He had an explosive argument with Prof. Bacilious, who is a decent and mild-mannered gentleman, and after insulting him he threatened to have him put under arrest as soon as he sets foot in Egypt. Prof. Bacilious contacted the chief of Intelligence in Cairo to inform him about the incident, and as a result, Mr. Qurani was recalled to Egypt, particularly that his identity as an intelligence man – and not a diplomat as he claimed – was revealed to all. Strangely, this council is still active, and its chairman – General Ezzat Ibrahim – issued a statement on the 18th of November 2005 condemning the Coptic conference that was held in Washington on November 16-19, 2005.
I have attended several sessions in Prof. Bacilious’ house to get a fair idea about the council. During one of these meetings, Mr. Qurani commented on the articles I have been publishing in the Arab press by saying: “those are good articles, why don’t you write exclusively for Al-Ahram newspaper?” When I questioned al-Ahram’s willingness to tolerate the kind of articles I write, he advised me to write about the “beautiful national unity” that joins the Muslims and Copts. At that point, the council’s purpose and Said Qurani’s role became clear to me.
Mr. Qurani has made several futile attempts to engage expatriate activists in a dialogue, claiming that this was a personal initiative, and that his superiors were unaware of his “efforts”. Naturally, his efforts were not rewarded, because the real intention was to play down the critical issues, and not to carry out a valid dialogue, consistent with the proper rules, basics and procedures known to politicians and activists.

The Third Attempt
In March 3, 2000, I published an article in the newspaper, “Al-Quds Al-Arabi”(4) under the title “On his next visit to Washington: why wouldn’t President Mubarak have a talk with the Coptic activists?” I wanted to stress the fact that the Copts are not against that kind of exchange. I proposed 14 names to that end, and made sure that they represented the full spectrum of the expatriate Coptic community: Dr. Selim Naguib, Dr. Roshdi Saeed, Dr. Saad El-Fishawi, Mr. Alfonse Kelada, Dr. Raef Morcos, Dr. Saad Michael Saad, Dr. Helmi Guirguis, Mr. Nagi Awad, Mr. Nabil Abdel Malek, Dr. Michel Khalil, Dr. William El-Miry, Dr. Amira Gawhara – the Dean of the Faculty of Medicine Toledo,Ohaio, on behalf of women, and on behalf of the younger generation Emad Youssef and Michael Jerom Meunier who is known as Michael Mounir. I felt it was a well-balanced group, capable of conducting an effective dialogue with political officials. It goes without saying that this public invitation was completely ignored, and all I got, as I came to know later, was a public insult when he read the article during his visit to Washington.

The Fourth Attempt
The mediator in this case was a prominent Egyptian thinker who was also a personal friend. Though I was living abroad, we had stayed in touch, and my friend often called me from Cairo and regularly sent Christmas and Easter cards. In 2003, I was caught by surprise when he called, and asked my help, as a trusted friend, to recommend a group of expatriate Coptic activists willing to have a dialogue with the Egyptian government. Once more, I found myself explaining that we have nothing against this idea, that no one objects to a dialogue, provided that it will be a collective and serious endeavor, on a political ground, not a security one, and I thanked him for his concern for Coptic troubles. My friend planned to head with this request to Osama El-Baz, and get back to me. When he did, he informed me that they have rejected the idea of a dialogue under those terms. Since then, I have received neither calls nor cards from my friend.

The Fifth Attempt
I have lost count of the times when people contacted me to let me know that intelligence officials from the Egyptian Embassy in Washington or New York wish to talk to me; the last couple of times they have tried to reach me through Dr. William El-Miry. The first time was right after the Coptic conference and Dr. El-Miry expressed his unwillingness to relay their wishes to me. The second time, on January 11, 2006, they asked him to inform me that they are willing to host our next conference in Cairo, with any guests I choose to invite.
I recall that in the winter of 2004, I had a talk with a friend– an Egyptian intellectual – in his office. As we were discussing a certain idea, he thought it would interest Minister Omar Soliman, and asked his assistant to write down a letter with my name to the minister. I asked him not to make a single mention of my name, because I did not wish to meet with security officers as I was working at that time in an American governmental institution, and such a meeting was forbidden. Furthermore, as a matter of principle, I refuse to have a dialogue with security officers or intelligence men.
I will not digress about the Egyptian government’s offers that have reached me through those Egyptian intellectual friends, as I fear some might take it as a claim of self-importance. I know one thing for certain, the Coptic cause is a political issue, and that, for a half a century, we have been telling anyone who cares to listen that the security agencies should not be involved in handling Coptic issues, so how can we agree to discuss the Coptic situation with those same agencies?
Why would they be interested in Magdi Khalil or others, unless it is just another attempt at infiltrating the public figures one after the other and ruining their credibility? If they really seek a dialogue, it would be more plausible if they address the local Coptic community or Pope Shenouda, especially considering they had no problems talking to him directly and requesting his support during the elections. Why do they try to arrange for individual and secretive meetings, and why do they resort to mediators? Finally, what can a single individual do when faced with a huge establishment who has the means to take all that he has to give, and give him nothing in return?
Those questions are particularly relevant to the recent couple of attempts.

The Sixth Attempt:
Michael Meunier’ Visit
In the aftermath of the Coptic conference that was held in Washington, November 16-19, 2005, we were taken aback by a report published on 7 December, in the Lebanese newspaper “Al-Diar” (a newspaper with connections to corrupt figures in the Syrian regime- one of whom is Ghazi Kanaan) According to the newspaper, Mr. Michael Meunier met with Sheikh Abdel Amir Kabalan, acting president of the Shiite Higher Islamic Council, where they discussed the current situation of the Arab community in the United States, and its efforts to highlight the Arab causes. The newspaper mentioned that, during that meeting, Meunier also went over the recommendations of the Coptic conference that was held in Washington. Upon his return to the United States, Meunier told a friend that he had also met with Christian Lebanese figures, but did not deny what was published in “Al-Diar”.
On 9 December 2005, the newspaper Asharq Al-Awsat reported that Michael Meunier arrived to Cairo to meet with Omar Soliman, the chief of Egyptian Intelligence.
Michael Meunier’s visit was treated as a significant event, worthy of a full publicity campaign that was arranged by government-owned media such as Al-Ahram, Al-Akhbar, Rose El-Youssef, and Al-Mussawar. Totally unconcerned with how the Copts would react, the media portrayed him as “The leader of Copts”!!
A reporter friend asked Mr. Osama Saraya, Al-Ahram’s editor-in-chief, about what drove the newspaper to conduct an interview with Michael Meunier. It turned out that Al-Ahram was acting on specific orders, and I imagine that the same applies to the other official newspapers and magazines.
The Egyptian Intelligence plans for a personal and clandestine meeting with a Copt who is relatively young, has limited experience, and replies to questions with programmed answers; they make the meeting public knowledge even before he gets to Egypt, and then arrange for him to have a strident welcome – with that kind of scenario, can anyone possibly believe that this intelligence agency has the Copts’ best interests at heart?

The suspicious visit caught the expatriate Copts and activists by surprise, and as a result prominent Coptic organizations in the United States, Europe, Canada and Australia, along with key activists, issued a statement that pointed out in clear terms that Michael Meunier does not represent them and did not confer with them. The statement called attention to the Intelligence’s attempts to infiltrate and destroy Coptic action, and alerted the people to reject this course of action that has the potential to disintegrate the Copts’ peaceful efforts to restore their rights.
Meunier’s actions came as a total surprise to the Coptic organizations, activists, the participants in the Washington conference, and even to the members of his own organization, US Copts Association. Dr. Kamal Ibrahim, US Copts board member, wrote to Meunier an e-mail on 9 December 2005 stating, “Michael, are you really in Cairo? You haven’t informed anyone in the board of directors about this visit, what are you doing in Cairo? Please respond.”
On 12 December 2005, and following the statement issued by the Coptic activists, several of us received the following e-mail from Meunier: “I am on a personal visit to Egypt, to visit my family first and foremost. I’m asking you to reserve your judgment on the visit till I return and tell you about its results, and if you don’t approve, then we won’t be losing anything”.

The idea of this visit being “personal and “familial” is a bit hard to believe. Why would a man on a personal visit be greeted in the airport, meet with the director of the Intelligence agency, and give a number of pre-arranged interviews to national newspapers and magazines that have been attacking expatriate Copts for decades? Why would a personal visit get so much publicity? Why did he feel entitled to discuss the Coptic situation with the Security and Intelligence Services, particularly that he was among those who signed the Zurich and Washington declarations that clearly stated that the Copts refuse to consider, or treat their cause as a “security issue”, or engage in talks with a security agency concerning Coptic affairs; and what has a personal visit to do with suspicious political meetings?
Would a personal visit require such a complete change of posture: in Lebanon he spoke of the significance of expatriate activities in the States in putting the Arab causes in the spotlight; in Egypt, he told Al-Ahram reporter – Gamal el-Kashky(5) – that he (Meunier) lost the elections (for the Virginia Assembly) because his opponent attacked his Arab origin, and finally he told the reporter of the newspaper Ilaf that he is currently working on moving his political activity to Egypt.(6) He has also mentioned to more than one newspaper that he is working on creating a political party in Egypt, not to mention that a “familial” visit would require him to visit his family in the first place, which he did not do.
Above all, he went on a clandestine visit, without seeking counsel or permission, promised that he will explain his viewpoint upon returning, but failed to say anything of relevance except for some vague talk about meetings, all of which was already mentioned in the newspapers, and informed no one about the visit’s particulars.
A legitimate question is why didn’t he, or the other parties, try to include the local Copts in those meetings, at least as witnesses. Upon his return, instead of fulfilling his promise and offering a report of his visit, he portrayed himself as a victim of a defamation campaign, which is, as Americans would say, a smoke screen to create a state of confusion and mask the truth.

Michael gave more than one version about his visit to Egypt, he informed Youssef Sidhom that he was on a visit to Lebanon where he made a casual call to Refaat El-Said who suggested that he come to Egypt since he was already in Lebanon, and accordingly he went to Egypt.(7)
“He told me he had the support of Dr. Refaat El-Said”, said Engineer Adly Abadir, “Refaat El-Said reassured Meunier that he won’t be taken straight from the airport to State Security investigations, and arranged an agenda that included meetings with Minister Omar Soliman, with the Minister of Information, and with other government officials. It was obvious to me that they have sent for him, and he can’t refuse to go, and even though he claimed it was a personal initiative, he refused to postpone it to the end of January 2006. I told him that they will buy him off in Cairo and cause divisions among the Copts, which has been their goal since 1952”, adding “Refaat El-Said asked me to put no pressure on Michael over his visit to Cairo, because he will be coming to Cairo in any case, which reinforced the impression I had that Michael has been called back and cannot refuse to go.”(8)
This also implies that this visit was pre-arranged in Washington, and not the result of an idea that came up while he was in Lebanon, as he told Youssef Sidhom.
I personally called Refaat El-Said and he informed me that Michael is a friend of his son, and usually stays in his house during his visits to Egypt, but that he had nothing to do with this particular visit; adding: “if you go to the Egyptian Embassy in Washington and ask to meet with Omar Soliman, would they deny your request? Of course not, they will welcome you. I have nothing to do with this, and do not get me involved in your problems, and don’t concern yourselves very much with Michael .. those who met with him in Cairo know exactly the extent of his importance.” (9)
Refaat El-Said gave the same answer to the reporter of the newspaper “Al-Masreyoun”: “I have nothing to do with Michael Meunier’s visit to Egypt .. he is a friend of my son”.(10)
Michael Meunier and Refaat El-Said have been coordinating their efforts as regards the Coptic file for some time now, as confirmed by a story which Refaat El-Said has recounted in the presence of Adel Guindy and William Wissa: “During President Mubarak’s visit to Washington in 2002, Michael Meunier sent me a fax saying this time there will be no demonstrations during the President’s visit. He called later and said that he is 90% sure that there will be no demonstrations. I told him that this is unacceptable, it has to be either 0% or 100%; he got back to me after a while and said that he was 100% sure there will be no demonstrations”.(11)

Who is Michael Meunier?

I have been talking about Michael Meunier so far without even knowing his real name, or who he is exactly, and I have no wish to go into unnecessary personal details. When his father passed away I expected to know a bit more about him, even simply his father’s real name, but he was only referred to as “Mr. Michael Meunier’s father”, and nothing was mentioned about other family members.
I have friends who have known Mr. Meunier for some time and came to the realization that he is acting for his own personal interests, which explains why – after his visit to Egypt – he only sought out the wealthy Adly Abadir, out of all the expatriate activists. On 16 December 2005 he sent his cousin and attorney, Mounir Sami Guirguis, to Mr. Abadir asking for his forgiveness. Mr. Guirguis had a long message from Michael that described Mr. Abadir as “a kind-hearted father, and the elder of the expatriate Copts”. Mr. Guirguis asked him to forgive Michael, saying: “would you expect Michael to refuse an invitation from the officials of the Egyptian government?” These words confirm that Mr. Munier’s visit was not a spur of the moment idea, but rather as Refaat El-Said indicated, a pre-arranged visit in coordination with the Egyptian embassy in Washington.
The lack of transparency is another disturbing tendency. For example, Mr. Munier had opened a bank account on 10 April 2000 at Herbert Bank 7710872 for the benefit of the victims of the “Al-Kosheh” tragedy, but, according to Dr. Selim Naguib, Bishop Wissa, the person responsible for the disbursement of the funds to the victims, has not received a single cent of the allocated funds until now, and no one knows the size of the funds deposited in that account; the same thing happened following the famous train accident in Giza.
When Munier was nominated to represent a district in the elections of the Virginia assembly, a common friend contacted me on his behalf, and asked me to write an article about him, to encourage the Copts to become involved in political action, and to help raise funds for his electoral campaign. I wrote that article, and I have never regretted writing anything as much as I have regretted writing this article.
These are the facts, and it is up to the readers to make their own judgment. I believe the future will reveal more.

The Seventh Attempt:
Maged Riad’s Visit
While we were still recovering from Michael Meunier’s surprise visit to Egypt in which he met with state security officials, we found out about Mr. Maged Riad’s (Pope Shenouda III’s spokesperson in the U.S.) visit to Cairo. In an interview with Rose El-Youssef magazine, Mr. Riad said that Michael Meunier’s visit to Cairo had irritated him, and prompted him to come to Cairo to discuss the Coptic issues- sounding like he is trying to confirm that he is the certified governmental agent and not Michael Meunier.
On 14 November 2005, just two days before the Coptic conference, I was contacted by Al-Ahram’s “The major official newspaper in Egypt” correspondent in Washington, Mr. Khaled Daoud, and gave him an interview about the conference. The conference was held on the 16 November, and I was surprised to read a news story, bearing the name of Khaled Daoud, entitled “The expatriate churches condemn the Coptic conference held in Washington”. When I asked Mr. Daoud, he told me that he had not written that news story, knew nothing about its source, and that the actual piece he had written, and which included the interview I gave him, had not been published.
That same day I was a guest on al-Jazeera’s program Ma Waraa el Khabar (Behind the News) that was discussing the Washington conference, and I mentioned that Al-Ahram newspaper has published a news story that was allegedly released by the church, but in fact no one had conferred with the church, and that the story bore the name of a correspondent who, in fact, did not write the story. I think that the government, wishing to avoid a scandal, opted to issue an authentic statement this time, and contacted Maged Riad for that purpose.
On November 18, 2005, Mr. Riad issued a statement entitled “a Declaration of Solidarity”, where he rejected and condemned any attempt to involve outside parties or states in Egypt’s affairs, stating that the resolution of Coptic problems should come from within the country, adding “we reject the dubious practices of a group that has certain objectives and that does not take into consideration the best interests of the people of Egypt. We call on those groups to stop the damage they are doing to the country”.
It goes without saying that Riad’s statement also expressed “deep appreciation to the leadership of President Hosni Mubarak”. It seems that Khaled Daoud was instructed to disparage the conference, so he implanted a series of lies in an article that was published in Al-Ahram on the 26th of November 2005. He attacked the conference, Michael Meunier, and me, describing me as the prince (Amir) of the extremist group in Washington, falsely claiming that the Copts have asked Washington to eliminate US aid to Egypt, and that a few conference members attempted to assault him.
A few weeks later, the same newspaper that attacked Michael Meunier was welcoming him with open arms, after the Egyptian Intelligence lured him to Cairo. This is how the national press in Egypt is being run, and how its correspondents end up doing the bidding of the security and intelligence agencies.

I will now turn to Mr. Riad, who introduced himself in the statement mentioned above, and during his visit to Cairo, as a spokesperson of Pope Shenouda, giving the false impression that he had the Pope’s approval and blessing for the above quoted statement and visit to Egypt. But, in fact, the Pope does not interfere in the political actions of expatriate Copts, preferring to keep a neutral position, and only ministering to the spiritual and religious needs of his congregation. It is possible that in choosing Maged Riad as a spokesperson, the Pope was honoring the memory of his father – the late Fayez Riad, and his grandfather – the late Reverend Ibrahim Luka; but there are radical differences between the grandson and his father or grandfather.
Mr. Riad was a guest on an Egyptian TV show, talking to Abdel Latif Al-Menyawi, where he openly accused the Washington conference’s participants of treason. In an interview with the weekly magazine Rose El-Youssef(12), he said that he prevented two senators from attending the conference. In another interview with Al-Ahram, he asserted that there is no Coptic persecution in Egypt, just exaggerated accounts, that these are typical problems that many people around the world experience, and he prefers to deal with them within Egypt.(13)
In each of those interviews, he emphasized the services he has provided in America for the Egyptian government such as creating a branch for the National Bank, assisting Al-Ahram newspaper, and other issues that were handled by his office in New York on behalf of the Egyptian government.
Maged Riad’s discourse is clearly in harmony with the misleading discourse of the Egyptian government as regards Coptic issues.

If His Holiness Pope Shenouda gave you, Mr. Riad, the authorization to speak for him as a legal advisor in matters concerning the congregations in the United States, did he also authorize you to discuss the political facets of the Coptic cause? Did he authorize you to speak for him within Egypt? Did he authorize you to speak for the benefit of the Egyptian government as regards the situation of the Coptic community, or in other words, did he tell you to reiterate the lies of the Egyptian government as regards the Coptic situation? Did he ask you to turn down those who are trying to support the Coptic people, telling them that the Egyptian government is taking positive measures, and that their support is not needed? Did the Pope ask you to accuse the Copts who have attended the conference of treason, and issue a statement during the conference accusing the participants of damaging the country’s reputation and provoking outsiders against Egypt? What is the real nature and boundaries of your role? Do you side with the Copts, or with the government that persecutes them? On which side are you: with or against your people? Do you deserve the trust granted by His Holiness? Did you consider that your actions are causing grief to the souls of your father and grandfather, as you appear to defend the case of the oppressors who have victimized your people? And, speaking of treason, who is actually betraying the people’s trust, the one who speaks on their defense, or the one who speaks on defense of the government?

To recap:
• The Egyptian government has never pursued, nor responded to the Coptic requests for a sincere dialogue about Coptic issues.
• The Egyptian government’s handling of the Coptic file is wrought in lies and deception .
• The security and intelligence agencies seek to infiltrate the Copts, inciting divisions and dissent, and luring and detracting some good-intentioned people and others who are only after selfish personal benefits.
• The Copts categorically refuse to be considered a “file” left in the care of security agencies, and refuse to discuss their problems with a security or intelligence agency.
• The terms for a dialogue include the following: a political dialogue, held with government politicians authorized to make decisions, a collective and public endeavor, and not an individual and clandestine one, following a specific agenda previously agreed upon, and leading to commitments that should be implemented according to a determined time schedule. The Coptic individuals involved in that dialogue should represent the full spectrum of the Coptic community, provided that the local Coptic community plays a major role. A documented transcript of the discussions, and its results – whether positive or negative – should be preserved. If an individual – or a group – do not abide by the legitimate representation of a just cause, which ought to express the different aspects of the community’s struggles and sufferings, they will be inevitably isolated from the mainstream of the community.
• The Copts have only one effective alternative left, and that is to bring their case to the attention of the international community, taking advantage of the current international setting to shed light on their plight and restore their rights. It will take the willpower of the international community to make the Copts’ long overdue dreams come true.

To conclude, the sole purpose of this article is to alert the Copts about those detrimental schemes. I am aware that this might subject me to the wrath of some parties, but I believe that the truth should be spoken out loud.
I have been involved in public action for more than 15 years, and during that time I have not received a single cent from any individual, agency or government, and I am ready to respond publicly to any claims to the contrary. All I wish for, as an intellectual, is to be able to continue to write, without having financial ties or obligations to any faction.
___
Magdi Khalil is a political analyst, researcher, author and Executive Editor of the Egyptian weekly Watani International. He is also a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, London, a free-lance writer for several Arabic language newspapers, and a frequent contributor to Middle East broadcast news TV. Mr. Khalil has also published three books and written numerous research papers on citizenship rights, civil society, and the situation of minorities in the Middle East. E-mail: magdikh@hotmail.com

References
1. The Copts magazine, The American Coptic Association, October 1978.
2. Dr. Raef Morcos, Al-Rissalah magazine, February 1998.
3. “Religious communities, sects and ethnic groups”, Sixth Annual Report, 1999, Iban Khaldun Center for Development Studies.
4. Al-Quds Al-Arabi newspaper, London Orbits, March 3, 2000.
5. Al-Ahram newspaper, Gamal Al-Keshki interviewing Michael Meunier.
6. Elaph newspaper, January 14, 2006.
7. A telephone conversation with Youssef Sidhom.
8. Adly Abadir comments on Michael Meunier’s visit “The Copts United”, December 12, 2005.
9. A recorded telephone conversation with Refaat El-Said
10. Al-Masreyoun newspaper, December 16, 2005.
11. William Wissa, Al-Kosheh: The Absent Truth, p. 291
12. Rose El-Youssef weekly magazine, January 8, 2006.
13. Al-Ahram newspaper, January 13, 2006.

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One Response to “The Dialogue Between the Copts And the Egyptian Government”


  1. Greetings and Hello to everybody! My name is Bertie, from Ocala, Florida. Your Blog was easy to navigate, most informative, and it contained the information I needed for my college research paper, Have a nice day, and many thanks!


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