Cornelis Hulsman

Role box
- Director of the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation since 2005
- Co-founder and editor-in-chief of Arab-West Report, previously called Religious News Service from the Arab World (founded in 1997)
- Co-founder of the NGO to become the Center for Arab-West Understanding
Education, Career and Personal Background
Drs. Cornelis Hulsman was born in The Netherlands in 1955. He studied development sociology at the University of Leiden, specializing in Eastern Christianity, Islam and development. From 1979 to 1994, he was one of the leading Middle East experts of the CDJA and CDA (Christian Democratic Party). In 1988, he married Sawsan Gabra Ayoub, a Coptic Orthodox Christian from Alexandria, Egypt.


Migrating to Egypt

Drs. Cornelis Hulsman first came to Egypt in 1975 and stayed with a Coptic (Alexandria) and Muslim family (Cairo), and developed friendships that made him come back on a yearly basis. In 1982-1983 he worked with Dr. Ibrāhīm Sulaymān and Dr. Aḥmad Juwaylī on a study on small farmers in Damietta. Drs. Cornelis Hulsman obtained his Dutch “doctoraal” degree in 1984. From 1985 to 1994 he occupied leading positions in the Dutch emigration service before migrating to Egypt where he has been a permanent resident since 1994.


Media correspondent

Drs. Cornelis Hulsman has been reporting since 1994 for Dutch and American newspapers, magazines and radio stations, mostly religious media including Protestant, Catholic as well as Islamic, liberal and socialist media. Hulsman has interviewed major public personalities such as Dr. Buṭrus Ghālī in his function as UN secretary-general, Kofi Anan before holding the position of UN secretary-general, Dr. Usāmah al-Bāz, political advisor to President Mubārak, Eritrean President Afeworke, Georgian President Shevarnadze, and several Egyptian ministers. Hulsman has been a board member of the Cairo Foreign Press Association (FPA) since 1996. In 2003, he became secretary-general. Drs. Hulsman has served as affiliate-assistant professor of mass communications at the American University in Cairo in 2000-2001, followed by an excellent recommendation for his work at AUC (see letters of recommendation, He has lectured throughout the years in several European countries, the U.S. and Egypt.
- Editorial board of Arab-West Report, formerly known as Religious News Service from the Arab World (editor-in-chief since 1997)
- Cairo Foreign Press Association (member since 1996, secretary-general since 2003)
Political/Religious Involvement
Cornelis Hulsman was born into a Christian Reformed family in the Netherlands and joined the Coptic Orthodox denomination in 1985. In his professional work it is important to him to use one standard in dealing with people of all religions and convictions [AWR, 2004, 15, art 2].
Involvement in Arab-West/Intercultural/Interfaith Relations
Drs. Hulsman has been engaged in intercultural dialogue since 1974. He has obtained wide experiences in Christian-Muslim relations, and is concerned about the negative effects of frequently occurring biased press coverage. Hulsman firmly agrees with the great English philosopher and statesmen Francis Bacon (1561-1626) that knowledge is the prescription to cure harmful suspicion that always results from a distortion of facts. Dialogue therefore needs a knowledge and understanding of different cultures and religions. Hulsman believes that building an electronic documentation center is the best way to counter the wider public’s lack of knowledge.

Hulsman believes that religious issues and relations are an important element of intercultural dialogue and understanding. He has investigated tens of inter-religious tensions, and concluded that most tensions have their roots in social problems. These social issues later adopt a religious aspect, because many religious Egyptians tend to invoke religious arguments into something that initially had nothing to do with religion [RNSAW 1998, 16, art. 3].

Hulsman believes that language inflation and exaggerations distort accurate descriptions of Muslim-Christian relations, and thus he refuses to speak of ‘Christian persecution’ as some activists do.

Hulsman’s outspoken opposition to rumors, exaggerations and other distortions has resulted in hundreds of articles and reports, most, but not all, placed in the Religious News Service from the Arab World and later Arab-West Report. He publicly criticized some media and activists which in a number of cases have raised the ire of some political activists who have made efforts to stop him criticizing their reporting.

In 1995, Hulsman started investigating many stories of Egyptian Christian women being forced to convert to Islam, and found no evidence of the frequently made claims that these women had been kidnapped and forced to convert. Thus, when a group of Coptic organizations placed in 1999 an advertisement in the Washington Times, mentioning 10 girls by name they claimed had been kidnapped, in his files he found the background about seven of them, had found no physical force used but certainly conversions to escape difficult social or family situations, including domestic violence. That in turn resulted in the report ‘Forced Conversions or not?’ New York Council of Churches, June 28, 1999 (RNSAW 1999, 26A, art. 37).

Coptic activists were furious and made unsubstantiated attacks on Hulsman in the Copts Daily Digest, which in turn resulted in the report ‘Conversions of Christians to Islam,’ by Coptic scholar Dr. Rodolph Yanney, January 9, 2001, who came to similar conclusions as Hulsman (RNSAW 2001, 01A, art. 4). See also RNSAW 1998, 19, art. 6; RNSAW 2000, 45, art. 1; his “Open letter to former U.S. Congressman Pastor Ed McNeely,” AWR 2003, 30, art. 34. AWR 2004, 28, arts. 21-22, 37-38, and AWR 2004, 36, art. 28 responds with a thorough investigation to a U.S. Christian publication claiming that a Christian girl had been forced to convert to Islam. More reporting by Janique Blattmann followed in AWR, 2005, week 53, art. 8].

In 1998, Hulsman publicly criticized reporting of Coptic activists living in the West, lawyer Maurice Ṣādiq and the Sunday Telegraph for distorting reporting about police atrocities in the Upper Egyptian village of al-Kushh. Those atrocities occurred, but activists blew them up and neglected their actual context. The U.S. Copts Association responded by accusing Hulsman in 1998 of being “a double agent for the Egyptian Government.” They also claimed he criticized their reporting out of fear of expulsion from Egypt and therefore reporting the way he had done. [RNSAW 1998, 44, art. 11-14]

In 2000, the Freedom House and the U.S. Copts Association organized a letter campaign to pressure the editor of Christianity Today to not accept articles from him. Christianity Today did not concede.

A year later Hulsman criticized a U.S. Copts campaign about a woman whose children were said to be under threat of conversion to Islam, a claim the Coptic Orthodox Church in Beni Suef denied [RNSAW, 2001, 19, art 22 and 23. See also his critique on Coptic activists in AWR, 2003, 26, art. 34]

Hulsman criticized the selectivity in the reporting of the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), resulting in an effort to silence him through threatening to bring him before court for his reports about MEMRI [RNSAW, 2002, 48, 20]. In 2003, Hulsman criticized Coptic activists for publicity around illegally built walls around the monastery of Antonius (AWR, 2003, 34, 30). French journalist Ismail de Coursac, a convert to Islam, unaware of Hulsman’s critique of Coptic activist reporting, falsely accused Hulsman of being on good terms with U.S. Coptic activists and responsible for organizing a visit for journalists to the Monastery of Antonius during the time that the monks were fencing off efforts of security officers to demolish an illegally built wall [AWR, 2003, 52, art. 4].

In 2004, Egyptian security advised against Hulsman’s efforts to form an Egyptian NGO with a large number of prominent Egyptians. The case was brought before the Council of State who, in January 2006, ruled that security had made its decision on the basis of rumors. The lack of NGO status has greatly hampered efforts to obtain financial support [see several editorial comments in AWR but especially 2004, 50, art. 1].

The German organization Missio invited Hulsman in 2004 for a one month lecture tour to Germany, lecturing on Arab-West and Muslim-Christian relations at universities, schools, churches and meetings in the German Parliament and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while at the same time meeting with many media representatives. During the first half of the lecture tour Hulsman was accompanied by Dr. cAmr Ascad Khalīil, and during the second half of his tour he was accompanied by Dr. Ḥasan Wajīh. Following the lecture tour in Germany, he lectured at universities in the Czech Republic and Denmark. Hulsman was the main organizer of the visit of former Dutch Prime Minister Andreas van Agt to Egypt in May 2006, meeting during this visit with many leading Egyptians, including ministers, the secretary-general of the League of Arab States, H.H. Pope Shenouda and Shaykh Dr. Muḥammad Sayyid Ṭanṭāwī. Prof. van Agt gave several lectures and interviews and obtained the support of the ministers of endowments, foreign affairs, secretary general of the Arab League, Pope Shenouda, and Shaykh Ṭanṭāwī for the request for NGO status. A new request that included three former ministers and many other prominent Egyptians was nevertheless turned town by Egyptian security in August 2006. The request made in 2004 is still pending in court.

Hulsman has excellent relations with many Egyptian bishops, priests, pastors of all denominations as well as with Muslim religious leaders. He proposed to publish a book on the Coptic Orthodox Holy Family tradition with photographer Norbert Schiller of the AUC press. When the book was presented in 2001, three bishops and more than 40 priests traveled from various parts of the country to attend.

Hulsman wants to remain independent, having good relations with different sectors of Egyptian society but not linked to any political or religious interests and does not want to be silenced by interest groups. He has obtained many excellent academic and other recommendations for his work as is obvious in the many letters of recommendation on CIDT’s website (

Establishing the Center for Arab-West Understanding

Due to his commitment to interfaith understanding Drs. Cornelis Hulsman co-founded Religious News Service from the Arab World (RNSAW) in 1997 with his wife Sawsan Jabrah Ayyūb Khalīl. In 2003, the name of the report was changed into Arab-West Report (AWR) and in was 2006 published by the civil company Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation (CIDT). The process to obtain NGO status under the name of Center for Arab-West Understanding (CAWU) in Egypt began in 2004.

Cornelis Hulsman frequently participates in religious dialogue meetings, and has a wide professional and personal network of religious figures among both Christians and Muslims.

Additional Information on other issues
Biographical references:
- This biography is partly based on interviews with Cornelis Hulsman and non published material written by him. The content has also been reviewed by Cornelis Hulsman.
Further Reading:
Several of Drs. Cornelis Hulsman’s lectures explain his motivation to fight for mutual intercultural and inter-religious understanding. His lecture in 2000 for the International Press Institute in Austria explained some of his personal background [RNSAW 2000, 45, art.1]. In a lecture for the Azhar University, more background about his motivations is provided [AWR, 2003, 52, art. 3] as well as in his lecture at Copenhagen University [AWR, 2004, 51, art.11]. These various lectures explain the reasons and motivations leading to the foundation of Religious News Service from the Arab World, Arab-West Report, the Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation and the pending NGO Center for Arab-West Understanding. Interviews in Trouw [AWR, 2005, 49, art. 2], Nederlands Dagblad [AWR, 2006, 32, art. 3] and Katholiek Nieuwsblad [AWR, 2006, 37, art. 3] also provide interesting background material.
Contact Information:
- Address:
Center for Intercultural Dialogue and Translation
90, Street 14b
Maadi, Cairo, Egypt
- Office phone/fax: (+20 2) 359 80 87
- Mobile: not available
- E-mail address: cornelis.[email protected] or [email protected]
- In some contexts Drs. Cornelis Hulsman is called Kees Hulsman. Kees is his nickname.
- “Drs.” is his Dutch academic title.
Hidden files:
Nationality: Dutch
Mia Ulvgraven, January 2007