What does a freedom fighter look like?
Romanticized images of guerrillas coiled to spring on unsuspecting imperialists might come to mind. Students of history might think of American Rangers scaling Pont du Hoc during the D-Day invasion of France or perhaps the Minutemen from this commonwealth who helped expel the British Empire.
Seldom, if ever, would one describe a freedom fighter as a slight, bespectacled Egyptian woman in business attire. But such a warrior was in our midst last Saturday, when Cynthia Farahat rose to deliver a presentation about politics and religion in her homeland during a conference on Christianity in the Middle East in Framingham sponsored by the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.
Farahat is a Copt. As she explained to the crowded ballroom, Farahat is a fourth-class citizen in Egypt. As a woman and a Copt living under Shari’a law in Egypt, she is at the back of the bus, behind Sunni men and Sunni women, with Coptic men a distant third. As such, Copts are out of luck when it comes to enforcement of the law when their rights and their persons are quite literally trampled upon, or even when their lives are taken. As Farahat said, the state defines Copts as “the Christian sons of dogs.”
She described from first-hand experience the atmosphere surrounding the so-called Arab Spring uprisings of 2011. Farahat delivered a chilling personal account of the gruesome death of a friend protesting outside the Egyptian state-sponsored television station at the hands of the Egyptian military.
Farahat also took a historical approach to her presentation, pointing out that the prevalence of Shari’a law has been nearly unbroken for 14 centuries. She discussed the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, its ties to the Nazi Party and the rise to power of Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat. She stated that the media image of Nasser and Sadat as portrayed by Western outlets was false, and that media descriptions of the Muslim Brotherhood as a moderate entity are “absurd.”
So what makes Farahat a freedom fighter? Like many freedom fighters, she fights with the pen. Farahat authored the book “Desecration of A Heavenly Religion” and has published several articles with scholar Daniel Pipes in outlets such as National Review. She also publishes in scholarly journals such as Middle East Quarterly.
In an article from the summer immediately following the uprisings, Farahat described actions taken by the Egyptian Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that merely continued the policies of the Mubarak regime, which included arresting bloggers, reasserting Shari’a law as “the principle of legislation” and refusing to arrest Muslims responsible for crimes against Christians.
A graduate of the Modern Science and Arts University in Cairo, Farahat has been a political and human rights activist in her homeland for over a decade. Such activism is slightly different from camping out in Dewey Square and endlessly beating on an overturned pickle bucket.
Farahat is a cofounder of two political parties. Both parties, the Liberal Egyptian Party and the Masr el-Om (Mother Egypt) party, were denied legal status by the Mubarak regime. For her efforts, she has more than once received cheery telephone calls from Islamists who told her that, because of her activism and because of her struggle for human liberty and the pursuit of peaceful coexistence, they were looking forward to putting her head in a freezer.
Farahat’s message about the background and ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood is an illumination, and a warning to classic liberals in the United State and around the world should the Muslim Brotherhood further entrench itself in Egyptian politics. Farahat is pleading with the United States to recognize that the plight of Copts is a national security issue. As she told the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission in the House of Representatives during testimony in December 2011, three things must happen in order for Copts and other religious minorities to begin having a semblance of liberty in Egypt.
First, the United States. should cease all financial aid to Egypt until religious minorities are permitted to exercise the freedom of speech and religious worship without the threat of violence. Second, the U.S. government should reconsider the vetting process for foreign national who are employees of American embassies, as many in Egypt have placed barriers in front of Copts applying for religious asylum. Most importantly, the U.S. must not legitimize the Muslim Brotherhood’s and the ruling Egyptian military’s use of Islamic blasphemy laws to persecute religious minorities.
To look at Cynthia Farahat is to see, at first glance, a professional woman, perhaps a corporate attorney or an executive of some sort, someone you might see riding the commuter train or walking in to a gleaming building in downtown Boston.
To hear Cynthia Farahat is to hear a patriot and defender of the most elementary of human rights and freedoms. This she has done in the face of some brutal repression. She defends liberty with personal and intellectual courage. Every American should, of course, welcome this freedom fighter to our shores. But, more importantly, we should listen to her.
Matthew May is the author of “Restoration,” which can be purchased at Amazon.com. He welcomes comments at [email protected]