Egypt’s religious minorities bear the brunt of renewed insecurity, new report
Egypt’s January 25 Revolution was driven by a demand for greater liberty, but insecurity and sectarian violence since then has increased, and the country’s religious minorities are bearing the brunt, says an international rights organisation in a new report.
Minority Rights Group International’s (MRG) report, No Change in Sight: The situation of religious minorities in post-Mubarak Egypt, highlights the role of government policy, restrictive legislation, police inaction, irresponsible media coverage and the rise of religious hate speech, in encouraging division and instability in the country since the 2011 revolution.
The bulk of the research for the report occurred in May and June 2013, shortly before the removal of President Mohamed Morsi, but violence against minority members and their places of worship is ongoing.
‘This report reveals the continued impact of violence and discrimination on Copts, Shi’a, Bahá’i and other religious minorities in the country. Impunity, prejudice and legal obstacles, which were rife under the authoritarian rule of President Hosni Mubarak, have yet to be addressed, nearly three years on from the January 25 uprising,’ says Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention.
Arson and destruction of Christian churches continues; one activist interviewed for the report described building churches as, ‘Like warfare – it can end in blood just to get it over with.’ Christian activists report that the abduction of Coptic Christian girls may amount to hundreds of cases annually, including cases involving allegations of drugging, forced conversion, sexual assault or forced marriage.
Engrained popular attitudes, social customs and the continued spread of hate speech through media, sermons and online, have contributed to an escalation in attacks since the revolution, says MRG.
The killing of four Shi’a in the village of Abu Musallim, outside Cairo, in June 2013, demonstrated the deadly potential of hate speech. The incident had been preceded by several weeks of escalating rhetoric by Salafist preachers, online incitement to hatred and political slurs against Shi’a, that helped inflame popular sentiment against them.
On the December 2013 draft constitution, the report says that while some of the improvements are welcome, they are limited and unlikely to achieve real change without greater respect for religious freedom among politicians, religious leaders and Egyptian society.
‘Religious minorities and the rest of Egypt’s citizens are facing uncertainty about the future,’ says Chris Chapman. ‘This underlines the fact that sectarian violence is not only a problem for religious minorities, but also for the population as a whole. How Egypt chooses to resolve this will be a major factor in its development in the years to come,’ he added.
Egypt has a number of religious minorities living in the country, totalling around 10 per cent of the population. While Copts form the largest minority group, Bahá’í, Shi’a Muslims, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Quranists and Ahmadis also have a well established and historic presence spanning generations.
These groups have suffered decades of sustained discrimination and violence, going back to the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, but more recently shaped by the pan-Arabism of Gamel Abdel Nasser and the subsequent political repression imposed by Anwar Sadat and his successor, Mubarak.
Notes to Editors
- To arrange interviews (in English in London or Arabic in Cairo), or request an embargoed copy of the report, please contact MRG’s Press Office – press
- No Change in Sight: The situation of religious minorities in post-Mubarak Egypt is available for free download in English and Arabic.
- Minority Rights Group International is the leading international human rights organization working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples. We work with more than 150 partners in over 50 countries.