WASHINGTON -- Egypt's Christian minority has experienced a "sharp escalation" in violent attacks at the hands of Islamic extremists under President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi's watch, declared the vice-president of an advocacy group for the Egyptian Christian minority during a congressional panel. On Thursday, Reps. Steve King (R-IA) and Louie Gohmert (R-TX), along with Dr. Walid Phares, a national security expert who served as a top foreign affairs adviser to President Donald Trump, hosted a panel aimed at condemning the genocide of ethnoreligious minorities in the Middle East.
The focus of the event was to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the U.S. Department of State's official declaration that the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) is committing genocide against ethno-religious minority groups in the Middle East, including Christians.
During the panel, Caroline Doss, an Egyptian-American immigration lawyer who specializes in Coptic asylum cases and serves as the vice-president of Coptic Solidarity, said:
Since 2011, there has been a sharp escalation in violence perpetrated against Coptic Christians [in Egypt]. We have seen many churches burned and we have seen many Christian homes and businesses also burned. Unfortunately, that violence has only continued to increase.
The lack of prosecutions. The lack of protection for this [Christian] minority has allowed this extremism and violence to fester and grow to the point where it is today.
As the country's military chief, Sisi led the public movement in July 2013 to overthrow Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader. Sisi became president later that year.
"The Islamic extremists feel they can target these people [Christians] because they know they are not protected," declared Doss, adding:
The Egyptian government has failed time and time and time again to provide basic protection for these people [Christians].
The Christians that I speak to on a daily basis that are coming to the U.S. to seek asylum -- they don't want to leave their country. They're not happy to leave. They wish they can stay. They love Egypt, but unfortunately, they feel that Egypt doesn't love them.
Doss noted that there have been "almost no prosecutions" of Islamic extremists who have attacked members of the Christian minority in recent years.
The Christian minority advocate suggested that the "climate of impunity" has grown under President Sisi.
In 2016 alone, "several churches [were] burned" and "many homes looted" with "no reaction from the government," she noted.
"On this one horrible day in June 2016, 80 Christian homes were looted and burned in an area near Alexandria," Doss pointed out.
In response, she said, the government arrested 12 people: six Muslims and six Christians.
"The six Muslims were released, and the six Christians were kept in custody... because they were praying without a permit," she added. "That leaves the Christians obviously feeling more helpless, more hopeless, and the Islamic militants more emboldened."
Doss highlighted the recently forced displacement of the Coptic Christian minority in the northern Sinai area of Egypt.
"There have been hundreds of families that have left in the last few weeks, but over the last five years, since 2011, four out of 5,000 Christians that were living there have fled," she mentioned. "So it isn't just a problem that developed in the last few weeks, but it's been something that's been going on for years."
"The group that has been targeting the Christians in the last few weeks in this one area [northern Sinai] has claimed affiliation with ISIS... but this has been going on for years -- way before ISIS claimed credit or even came to that region," added Doss.