THE failure of the Egyptian security forces to arrest and try
those responsible for the unprecedented level of attacks against
the country's Christian community over the past four months is
sending out a message that Copts and other religious minorities are
legitimate targets, a new Amnesty International report
Copts and Christian property have come under sporadic attack
from radical Islamists for many years; but since July, when
President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood-dominated government
were removed from power by the military, there has been a surge in
the number of incidents. The violence reached a climax in August
after the army used massive force to break up two pro-Morsi protest
camps on the streets of Cairo.
Amnesty International's Middle East and North Africa Deputy
Director, Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, said that it was "deeply
disturbing that the Christian community across Egypt was singled
out for revenge attacks over the events in Cairo". In her view, "a
backlash against Coptic Christians should have been anticipated;
yet security forces failed to prevent attacks or intervene to put
an end to the violence. . .
"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."
Such attacks, which have targeted several Christian
denominations in Egypt, have frequently been preceded by incitement
from mosques and religious leaders.
The attacks by mobs on Christian churches, schools, and charity
buildings in August left at least four people dead, and buildings
burnt to the ground. Amnesty visited sites of sectarian violence in
al-Minya, Fayoum, and Greater Cairo to gather evidence from
eyewitnesses, local officials, and religious leaders.
The report says that more than 200 Christian-owned properties
were attacked, and 43 churches were seriously damaged across the
country. Residents reported that "mobs armed with automatic rifles,
shotguns, Molotov cocktails, home-made explosives, metal bars, and
knives ransacked churches and Christian properties, chanting
slogans such as 'God is Great' or 'Christian dogs have no place in
A journalist who witnessed the violence in al-Minya said that
attackers were armed with machetes and swords. Historical and
religious relics were desecrated in the attacks, and graffiti was
scrawled on to church walls.
The Amnesty report says that some residents were attacked in
their homes. A 60-year-old Coptic Christian man was shot dead in
the village of Delga, in al-Minya, and his body was dragged through
the streets by a tractor. After he was buried, his grave was twice
dug up. One Copt from the governorate of Fayoum asked: "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
The Archbishop of Canterbury, in comments quoted by The
Times on Wednesday, urged the Egyptian government to do more
to prevent mob attacks on Coptic Christians. Welcoming the latest
Amnesty report, he said that attacks on any community were
"deplorable, and any state has the responsibility to protect its
citizens. The appalling attacks in August on the Christian
community in Egypt highlight the need for all citizens to be duly
protected. Despite the pressure they are under, by the grace of God
Christians in Egypt continue to do all they can to work for the
good of the whole of the society of which they are an essential
Prayers were said for Christians in Egypt and other Middle
Eastern trouble-spots during a meeting last weekend of the
Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission (AOOIC) in
Woking - the body's second meeting after a break of ten years. At a
service on Saturday, the General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox
Church in the UK, Bishop Angaelos, said: "We gather to remember our
brethren in Egypt, Syria, and throughout the Middle East, where
many continue to suffer persecution for their faith.
"Some suffer to the extent of losing their lives, yet their
faithful witness in the Middle East is a blessing to the whole
Church and the whole world."
The Bishop of Gibraltar in Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, who
co-chairs the AOOIC, said that Anglicans and Copts were reflecting
on their common faith in Christ "in the deep awareness of the
suffering of fellow Christians in Syria, in Egypt, and in many
"The God whom we worship and adore is the one who comes down to
the lowest part of our need."
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) commemorated on Wednesday
the second anniversary of a clash between Copts and the security
forces in 2011, outside a TV station in Cairo, known as the Maspero
Building, in which 24 Christians were killed (News, 14
October 2011). CSW called on the interim government in Egypt to
secure justice for the victims.