Egypt: Christians left defenceless by security forces
Amnesty International today published a detailed report exposing the failure of the Egyptian security forces to protect Coptic Christian communities.
The new report examines events during the unprecedented wave of sectarian attacks in the wake of the dispersal of two pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo on 14 August.
It reveals how the security forces failed to prevent attacks by angry mobs on Christian churches, schools and charity buildings, setting them ablaze and razing some to the ground. At least four people were killed.
Colm O’Gorman, Executive Director of Amnesty International Ireland, said: “It is deeply disturbing that the Christian community across Egypt was singled out for revenge attacks by some supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi.
“A backlash against Coptic Christians should have been anticipated, yet security forces failed to prevent attacks or to put an end to the violence.”
Amnesty International urges the Egyptian authorities to conduct an impartial, independent investigation into these sectarian attacks, and to take immediate steps to prevent future attacks.
A comprehensive strategy to fight discrimination against religious minorities must be devised and implemented. Discriminatory laws and policies must be repealed.
Colm O’Gorman continued: “Failure to bring to justice those responsible for sectarian attacks sends the message that Copts and other religious minorities are fair game. The authorities must make it absolutely clear that sectarian attacks will not be tolerated.”
More than 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches were seriously damaged across the country in the aftermath of events on 14 August.
“…Christians always pay the price?”
One Coptic Christian from the governorate of Fayoum described his dismay at the violence: “Why is it when there is a problem, Christians always pay the price? What do we have to do with the events in Cairo to be punished like this?”
Amnesty International visited sites of the sectarian violence in Al-Minya, Fayoum and Greater Cairo to gather evidence from eyewitnesses, local officials and religious leaders.
In several instances residents said mobs of angry men armed with firearms, metal bars and knives had ransacked churches and Christian properties.
Historical and religious relics were desecrated. Graffiti left scrawled upon walls in the aftermath of the attacks included slogans such as “Morsi is my President” and “They killed our brothers during prayer”.
The messages leave little doubt as to the sectarian nature of the attacks and link the events firmly to the crackdown against Morsi supporters in Cairo. Attacks were frequently preceded by incitement from local mosques and religious leaders.
Colm O’Gorman said: “The leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood said too little too late. They must condemn their supporters’ actions and urge them to refrain from sectarian attacks and the use of sectarian language.”
Machetes and swords
In Al-Minya, where most of the attacks occurred, a journalist, Zeinab Ismail, who witnessed scenes of violence, said attackers were armed with machetes and swords.
Some residents were attacked in their homes. The body of a 60-year-old Coptic Christian man shot dead at home in the village of Delga in Al-Minya, was later dragged through the streets by a tractor. After he was buried his grave was dug up twice.
Colm O’Gorman said: “Any investigation must also examine the role of the security forces. Some incidents lasted for hours and recurred in subsequent days. Why were the security forces unable to prevent and put an end to such attacks?”
The release of Amnesty International’s new briefing coincides with the second anniversary of a bloody crackdown by the armed forces on protesters, outside the state television building known as Maspero in Cairo on 9 October 2011, in which 26 Coptic Christians protesters and a Muslim were killed.
Successive governments have failed to address discrimination and targeting of religious minorities in Egypt. Under Hosni Mubarak at least 15 major attacks against Copts were documented. Following the fall of Mubarak, under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, deadly sectarian clashes continued to take place.
The situation also failed to improve under Mohamed Morsi, attacks against Copts continued and anti-Christian rhetoric was stepped up. Christian communities have for decades faced legal and bureaucratic hurdles to build and restore places of worship.
Image caption: The monastery of Amir Tadros Shutbi after it was attacked.