(WASHINGTON, D.C.) - There has been an unprecedented rise in sectarian violence across Egypt targeting Coptic Christians and the Egyptian authorities must take immediate steps to ensure their safety, Amnesty International said.
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 August 14. Several Coptic Christians were killed, while their churches, businesses, and homes have been under attack.
"It is a shocking dereliction of duty that security forces failed to prevent these sectarian attacks and protect Coptic Christians," said Hassiba Hadja Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International. "The backlash against Coptic Christians should have been anticipated following the dramatic rise in similar incidents since Mohamed Morsi was ousted. Attacks against Coptic Christians must be investigated and those responsible brought to justice."
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 were documented in the Upper Egypt Governorate of Al-Minya, with more attacks recorded in Alexandria, Assiut, Beni Suef, Fayoum, Giza, North Sinai and Suez. Activists reported that in some instances, attackers 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 International that Coptic Christians felt under siege by the alarming rise of sectarian violence particularly in the absence of protection by security forces.
On August 15, the Prime Minister condemned the sectarian violence.
"Condemning the violence is not enough," Hadja Sahraoui. "The tragic attacks were no surprise given the inflammatory and sectarian language used by some Morsi supporters, scapegoating Christians for the crackdown they suffered."
In one incident documented by Amnesty International, a Coptic Christian man was killed and at least three more injured when some participants in a pro-Morsi march attacked a Christian block in the area of Izbit al-Nakhl in Giza on August 15. A number of Coptic Christian stores and cars were also set alight.
Local residents told Amnesty International that at about 5:30 p.m., a march by Morsi supporters approached their block, using sectarian and inflammatory language in their chants, including: "what a shame, the nasara [derogatory term for Christian] are pretending to be revolutionaries."
As the march approached, most Coptic Christians shut their stores and sought shelter inside. Some ran to the local church to seal it off from a potential attack. Those who remained in the streets were shot at and/or beaten.
"In the current political standoff, both the Egyptian authorities and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood have shamefully failed to prevent and stop attacks on Coptic Christians," said Hadj Sahraoui. "Immediate measures must be taken to ensure their safety."
Since the ousting of Mohamed Morsi on July 3, there has been a notable rise in sectarian attacks targeting Coptic Christians, amid the failure of the security forces to intervene to put an end to the violence.
In another recent incident of sectarian violence on August 3 in the Governorate of Al-Minya, the authorities have not only failed to promptly intervene to put an end to the sectarian attack, but also appeared to be reverting back to old policies of addressing sectarian violence through "reconciliation" rather than 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 deposed President Mohamed Morsi's administration. No proper investigations have been conducted into the role and responsibility of the security forces in the violence.
Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning grassroots activist organization with more than 3 million supporters, activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice, freedom, truth and dignity are denied.