Amnesty International has called for the Egyptian authorities to take immediate steps to ensure the safety of Egypt’s Coptic Christians after an unprecedented rise in sectarian violence across the country.
Coptic Christians have been targeted – seemingly in retaliation for their support of the ousting of Mohamed Morsi – since the violent dispersals of pro-Morsi sit-ins in Greater Cairo on 14 August.
Several Coptic Christians have been killed, while churches, businesses and homes have all come under attack.
According to the Maspero Youth Union, 38 churches have been burned and an additional 23 partially damaged across the country. Dozens of homes and businesses have been looted and/or burned.
More than 20 attacks on churches have been documented in the Upper Egypt Governorate of Al-Minya alone, with more attacks recorded in Alexandria, Assiut, Beni Suef, Fayoum, Giza, North Sinai and Suez. Activists have reported that in some instances attackers have desecrated graves considered sacred by Coptic Christians and conducted Muslim prayers inside the churches.
The situation appears to be especially dire in the Al-Minya Governorate, where local residents, including a police officer, told Amnesty that Coptic Christians felt under siege as a result of the alarming rise of sectarian violence, particularly in the absence of protection by security forces. On 15 August, the Egyptian Prime Minister condemned the sectarian violence but attacks have continued nonetheless.
Amnesty International Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director Hassiba Hadja Sahraoui commented: “In the current political stand-off, both the Egyptian authorities and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood have shamefully failed to prevent and stop attacks on Coptic Christians.
“Condemning the violence is not enough. The tragic attacks were no surprise given the inflammatory and sectarian language used by some Morsi supporters, scapegoating Christians for the crackdown they suffered.
“It is a shocking dereliction of duty that the security forces failed to prevent these sectarian attacks and protect Coptic Christians.
“Attacks against Coptic Christians must be investigated and those responsible brought to justice.”
Discrimination against Coptic Christians has been prevalent in Egypt for decades. Under President Hosni Mubarak at least 15 major attacks on Copts were documented.
Sectarian violence continued under the Supreme Council of Armed Forces and following the election of President Mohamed Morsi. At least six attacks on Coptic churches or buildings took place in 2013 during the final months of Morsi’s administration. No proper investigations have been conducted into the role and responsibility of the security forces in the violence.