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Egypt failing in duty to minorities, says Amnesty

11 October 2013

ACO/NEIL VIGERS

Members of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission gather for its meeting, beginning on Thursday of last week, at St Columba's House.

Members of the Anglican-Oriental Orthodox International Commission gather for its meeting, beginning on Thursday of last week, at St Columba's House...

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 suggests.

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 Egypt'."

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 this?"

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 part."

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 other places.

"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.

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