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MRG deeply concerned by attacks on Coptic Christian community

20 August 2013

Minority Rights Group International (MRG) expresses its deepest concern about the recent attacks on the Coptic Christian community in Egypt.

‘It is essential that the Egyptian security forces protect all sectors of the population, no matter what their religion or ethnicity. Extra security should be provided in villages where tensions have risen. If this is not done, there is a real danger that sectarian violence will spiral out of control in Egypt,’ said Chris Chapman, MRG’s Head of Conflict Prevention.

The attacks are considered by many analysts as retaliatory, and come against a backdrop of escalating violence against this community since the June 30th ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi. Investigations of the incidents paint a disturbing picture of a community under siege, inadequately protected by security forces.

According to Christian Science Monitor, 47 churches have been burnt, robbed or attacked in Egypt since August 14. The Bible Society of Egypt also announced that its shops in Assiut and Minya had been burnt down.

Last month, in Dab’iya village, in Luxor governorate, four Copts were killed by an angry mob, who blamed Copts for the death of a Muslim. According to eye-witness accounts reported by Egyptian and international human rights organisations, security forces arranged for women and children to leave whilst leaving the men to face the mob. Two weeks ago a 10-year-old Coptic girl was shot dead while walking home from Bible class in Cairo. The Coptic Pope has received death threats.

There is a tradition in Egypt for reconciliation processes to be launched in cases of violence between Christians and Muslims. These are seen by Christians to be imposed on them against their will, and to be a substitute for justice, rather than complementing it.

In Sohag, a city with a large Christian community, Mar Gergiss church, was burned, and supporters of ousted president Morsi threw Molotov cocktails at the Bon Pasteur Catholic Church and Monastery. In Suez province the Franciscan Church and School were burned, whilst two churches were attacked in Minya province. In addition, St Damiana Church in Fayoum province was robbed and burned, and St George Church in Arish was also burned.

Other religious and ethnic minorities may also be at risk. In June, before the ousting of Morsi, four Shi’a were killed by a mob in Zawyat Abu Muslam village, Giza Governorate, after a sustained campaign of hate speech by local religious leaders.

MRG urges the Egyptian authorities to:

  • Take all necessary measures to protect religious minorities and their places of worship;
  • Ensure that those responsible for the current acts of violence are prosecuted in accordance with due process and international human rights principles;
  • Ensure that a full investigation is carried out into the failure of security forces to protect religious minorities in Dab’iya and Zawyat Abu Muslam, with those responsible for failings being subject to disciplinary or criminal proceedings; and
  • Enable all religious and ethnic communities to participate effectively in the political process as Egypt attempts to find a way out of the current cycle of violence.

Notes to Editors

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