STATE DEPARTMENT — U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton says the Egyptian people and the international community are looking to the new Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi to appoint an inclusive government the includes women and Christians. Clinton spoke following the release of the annual U.S. report on worldwide religious freedom.
Secretary Clinton says President Morsi has repeatedly promised to be the president of all Egyptians, regardless of their religion. But during talks in Cairo earlier this month, she says she heard from Christians who wonder whether they will have the same rights as other Egyptians in a new government led by the Islamic Muslim Brotherhood.
"They wonder, understandably, will a government looking explicitly to greater reliance on Islamic principles stand up for non-Muslims and Muslims equally? Since this is the first time that Egypt has ever been in this situation, it’s a fair question," Clinton said.
Questions of religious freedom dominated Secretary Clinton's visit to Egypt, with protestors in Cairo and Alexandria accusing the Obama administration of backing the Muslim Brotherhood.
Speaking in Washington on Monday following the release of the 2011 International Religious Freedom Report, Clinton said the United States does not take the side of one political party over another. She said Washington supports the rights of all people to live, work, and worship how they choose with no group imposing its ideology on others.
"The Egyptian people will look to their elected leaders to protect the rights of all citizens and govern in a fair and inclusive manner - and so will we. And if voters make different choices in future elections, then they and we will expect their leaders to respond to the will of the people and give up power. We are prepared to work with the leaders that the Egyptian people choose, but our engagement with those leaders will be based on their commitment to universal democratic principles," Clinton said.
In its annual report on religious freedom, the United States said Egypt's transitional government made gestures toward greater inclusiveness, but failed to hold accountable security forces that cracked down on an October protest outside the national radio and television station in which 25 people were killed, mostly Coptic Christians.
The report said there had been a "marked deterioration during 2011 in the government's respect for and protection of religious freedom in China" including in Tibetan areas and against Muslims living in the Xinjiang autonomous region as well as against Christian "house churches" such as the Shouwang church in Beijing.
The report says the Nigerian government "did not effectively quell rising hostility or investigate and prosecute those responsible for violence" in attacks by elements of the fundamentalist Boko Haram group that have claimed the lives of both Christians and Muslims. It said there were also reports of abuses of religious freedom "by certain state governments and local political actors who stoked communal and sectarian violence with impunity."
Secretary Clinton said religious freedom gives lives meaning and dignity, whatever religion people belong to or if they belong to no religion at all.
"Religious freedom is not just about religion. It’s not just about the right of Roman Catholics to organize a Mass or Muslims to hold a religious funeral or Baha'is to meet in each others’ homes for prayer or Jews to celebrate High Holy Days together - as important as those rituals are. Religious freedom is also about the right of people to think what they want, say what they think, and come together in fellowship, without the state looking over their shoulder," Clinton said.
Listed as "countries of particular concern" in this year's report are China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Burma, and Uzbekistan.