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‘How long are we going to live in this injustice?’: Egypt’s Christians caught between sectarian attacks and state inaction

June 24, 2014

An unprecedented wave of sectarian attacks on Coptic Christians swept Egypt on 14 August 2013 as the security forces violently dispersed protest camps set-up by supporters of deposed President Mohamed Morsi in Cairo. The attacks left dozens of churches, church-affiliated buildings, schools, and charitable organizations, as well as Coptic Christian-owned businesses and other properties, damaged.

In some instances, churches and other buildings were completely torched or razed to the ground. Crosses from church tops were broken, and sanctuaries destroyed. Historical monuments with religious significance and ancient relics were engulfed by the flames. Amnesty International documented the deaths of four people during the attacks.

Pope Tawadros II, the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church, the largest Coptic Christian denomination in Egypt, stated that 43 churches were completely destroyed on 14 August, with a further 207 Christian properties attacked. The campaign group Maspero Youth Union documented the destruction of 37 churches across the country, with 23 additional churches targeted for attacks and/or partially damaged. Attacks took place in Alexandria, Assiut, Beni Suef, Fayoum, Giza, Greater Cairo, Luxor, Al-Minya, North Sinai, Sohag and Suez.

Amnesty International visited sites of attacks in Al-Minya, Fayoum and Greater Cairo and spoke with eyewitnesses, religious leaders and government officials. The organization documented the deaths of four men in sectarian attacks on 14-15 August: three in Al-Minya and one in Izbat al-Nakhl in Greater Cairo.

In all cases documented by Amnesty International, attacks took place during and in the aftermath of the forcible dispersal of the two main pro-Morsi protest camps in Greater Cairo: the sit-ins of Rabaa al- Adawiya and Nahda. In some incidents, attacks were carried out by passing pro- Morsi marches or by mobs of angry men armed with various weapons, including firearms, metal sticks, and knives.

Eyewitnesses told Amnesty International that the violence was also marked by the use of sectarian and inflammatory slogans and chants, frequently preceded by incitement from local mosques and religious leaders. Graffiti sprayed on areas in the vicinity of attacks such as church walls and Coptic Christian homes, such as: “They killed our brothers during prayer” and: “[The] religion of God is Islam”, leave little doubt about the vengeful nature of the attacks against Coptic Christians, perceived as widely supporting the ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi.

Amnesty International has documented decades of attacks on Christians and other sectarian attacks, including under the rule of Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and Mohamed Morsi. However, there has been a notable increase in sectarian tension and an unprecedented level of attacks since Minister of Defence Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced on 3 July that Mohamed Morsi was no longer President – characterized by security forces’ failure to protect Coptic Christian lives, property and places of worship.