New Report Finds Rising Sectarian Tensions in Egypt since April

Press Release

21 July 2008

The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) today issued its second quarterly report on freedom of religion and belief in Egypt, documenting developments in the area of religious freedom during the months of April, May and June of 2008.
The report reveals an overall escalation of sectarian tensions during the reporting period. In some instances mentioned in the report, acts or rumors attributed to one member of the Coptic Christian Community resulted in collective violence against all members of that community – as was the case in two separate incidents in the governorate of Fayoum last June.
The report also provides an account of the armed assault on the Abu Fana Coptic monastery in the governorate of Menya, against a backdrop of a dispute over the ownership of the land surrounding the monastery. The EIPR’s First Quarterly Report had documented a similar attack against the monastery in January 2008.
The new report also reviews a number of significant court decisions issued during the reporting period. Particular attention is given to the decision by the Court of Administrative Justice last April to withdraw the State Award for Achievement in the Arts from its 2007 winner, renowned poet Helmy Salim. The court found a poem previously written by Salim to be “insulting to the divine being,” rendering the decision by an independent jury to grant him a state award legally invalid.
A summary of the new law imposing an absolute ban on demonstrations inside places of worship is provided by the report. Also reviewed  are the new statute establishing administrative and financial independence for dar al-ifta (office of the State's top religious adviser), the Church's amendments to the personal status regulations for Copts, and the fatwa issued by Al-Azhar's Islamic Research Council that the family of a Christian convert to Islam may not receive any of his/her inheritance. The report further provides an overview of the most significant political developments and new Egyptian and international reports and public events related to religious affairs in Egypt.
The aim of these series of reports is to provide law- and policymakers, researchers, the media and other stakeholders with a primary source for documented information on the most significant political, legal, and social developments affecting freedom of religion and belief in Egypt.