Egypt Coptic Christians suffer under violent attacks in Sinai region

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Coptic cross at the Temple of Isis in Egypt
An ancient Coptic Christian wall carving at the Temple of Isis, Philae, near Aswan, Egypt shows the presence of Copts from an earlier era in the Egyptian region. Image: Radiowood/Flickr

(WNN) Cairo, EGYPT, NORTHERN AFRICA: According to the EIPR – Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights the Egyptian government has been slow to respond to last weeks violence against the region’s minority Coptic Christians following the removal of former President Morsi and the June 30, 2013 public rallies in Cairo.

The recent rise in sectarian violence has been evident following events that have lead up to the transitional interim government in Egypt that has placed the region in what some experts say is ‘further turmoil’. In the meantime higher tensions have flared as some Muslim supporters of Morsi have appeared to blame Christians for the downfall of the former president.

Following the identification and mysterious death of Muslim citizen in the town of Nagaa Hassan, 300 plus miles south of Cairo in the Luxor region of Egypt, 4 Coptic Christians were killed following a mob attack in what the Associated Press has described as a “run for their lives” situation where dozens of Christian homes were torched and looted.

“These agencies have acted slowly and have not performed their legally mandated roles, failing to intervene to protect citizens and their property despite prior knowledge of the charged atmosphere and despite their presence on the scene during attacks,” said the EIPR after receiving witness testimonies of the violence.

Under the rising tension Mena Aboud Sharoben, a Coptic priest, was also killed in North Sinai in the town of El Arish, during a drive-by shooting. Numerous Christian churches throughout the Sinai Peninsula also closed their doors to worshipers in fear of continued violence.

“Copts are paying the price of the inflammatory rhetoric against them coming from some Islamist leaders and supporters of the former president, who accuse Coptic spiritual leaders of conspiring to foment army intervention to remove Dr. Morsy,” said Ishak Ibrahim, EIPR officer for freedom of religion and belief. “Incendiary speeches indicate that Islamist leaders believe Copts were heavily involved in the anti-Morsy protests…At the same time, Copts are paying a tax to exercise their constitutional rights and take part in political life as equal citizens like any other,” added Ibrahim.

Religious discrimination in Egypt is not a new phenomenon. As recently as July 2011 the U.S. State Department reported on severe sectarian violence in the region. Although there are few media reports to back up allegations, reports of kidnapping and forced Islamic conversion of  Coptic women by Muslim men has said to have occurred inside Egypt.

“As in previous years, there were occasional claims of Muslim men forcing Coptic women and girls to convert to Islam. Reports of such cases were disputed and often included inflammatory allegations and categorical denials of kidnapping and rape,” said the U.S. State Department, although past reports of women being harmed by Coptic members has also been reported.

In a July 2012 U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing highlighting the testimony of Michele Clark, Adjunct Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs for George Washington University in Washington, D.C., Clark spoke under oath about what was outlined as the “Escalating violence against Coptic women and girls…[through] The Disappearance, Forced Conversions and Forced Marriages of Coptic Christian Women and Girls in Egypt.”

Since January 2011 it appears that abduction and forced marriages of Coptic women and girls has risen remarkably.

“Four attorneys collectively report a total of over 550 cases of abductions, disappearances and petitions to restore Christian identity following abductions, forced marriages and forced conversions over a five-year period. Furthermore, one attorney interviewed for this report indicates first-hand knowledge of over 1,600 cases of Christians petitioning to have their conversions to Islam overturned in recent years, with 60% of this number being women; in other words, 960 women are petitioning to have their Christian identities restored,” said Clark during the Helsinki Commission hearing.

Sectarian violence has appeared to have gone hand-in-hand with the changing political scene in Egypt. Immediately following the arrest and removal of former President Hosni Mubarack from political office, Coptic Christians throughout Egypt felt the sting of discrimination. Some areas also reported violent attack on Copts and damage to buildings in Coptic neighborhoods.

What is disturbing is the failure of the security apparatus to act—which at times looks like collusion—to protect citizens and their property who are being targeted on the basis of their religion,” continued Ibrahim.

While religious strife is ongoing in Egypt some groups, like Salafyo Costa, are working today to slow the tension.


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