Regarding former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali's comment that Egypt is a country long known for its religious tolerance ("Egypt vs. Extremism," op-ed, Jan. 21): I wonder where he was when the 80,000 Jews who lived in Egypt before 1948 had their property confiscated and were either expelled or forced to leave their native country. Surely since his return to Egypt, he must have become aware of the rabid anti-Semitism in the Egyptian media.
As an Egyptian Jew whose family property was expropriated by the Egyptian government, I can tell you from personal experience that periods of religious tolerance were few and far between. Religious intolerance by the Muslim majority against the Jews and the Christian Copts is much more the norm.
Chadds Ford, Pa.
I am glad that Mr. Boutros-Ghali is hopeful about religious tolerance in Egypt. However, his claim that "Christians in Egypt exercise their faith freely" is not true, at least not in any way recognizable to Americans. His first recommendation is the most telling in this regard. Renovating churches in Egypt, let alone building new ones, is legally possible but Egyptian laws make it practically impossible. This difficulty greatly hinders the freedom of the Coptic Church.
A much greater difficulty, though, is the ban on Christian proselytizing and conversions to Christianity. Until this legal ban is lifted and Egyptians are free to follow their conscience in matters of faith, there will not truly be religious freedom in Egypt, and the cycle of violence is unlikely to end. If Egypt really is a "civil state," as Mr. Boutros-Ghali claims, ending this ban should be the first recommendation by the National Council on Human Rights. Otherwise, the best that Coptic Christians or people of any faith other than Islam can hope for is tolerance not freedom.
Mr. Boutros-Ghali attempts to convince his readers that the recent enmity and violence directed toward Egyptian Christian Copts is an anomaly in a country known for its longstanding religious tolerance. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. There is a good reason why the population of Egypt was essentially 100% Christian Coptic in the 7th century just prior to the Islamic invasions and is now only 10% and dropping. The reason is the institutionalized oppression inherent in Islamic law, under which religious minorities are stripped of their legal, religious and social freedoms, and forced to live as second-class citizens or "dhimmis," in a precarious and terrifyingly vulnerable state of existence.
Mr. Boutros-Ghali's talk of historical "coexistence" is typical for dhimmis of every creed, who have learned the hard way that criticizing their treatment carries with it risk of terrible reprisal. Ironically, Mr. Boutros-Ghali points to his grandfather, appointed prime minister over a century ago, as an example of Egyptian societal tolerance. In fact, the event took place during British rule, when oppressive Islamic tenets were discarded. Moreover, his grandfather was subsequently assassinated by an Egyptian Muslim who became a national hero and was lauded by street crowds as the man who "slew the Nazarene [Christian]." By denying centuries of Muslim religious intolerance, comments such as Mr. Boutros-Ghali's paradoxically delay the day when Muslims will be forced to honestly reckon with Islam's intolerant legacy.