Unprecedented spike in scale of sectarian violence and reprisals against Copts; interim president and prime minister must protect Egyptians’ lives and property and their houses of worship
The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights today renewed its warnings about the gravity of the wave of sectarian violence that has swept Egypt over the last few weeks and took a more severe turn with the dispersal of the sit-ins of supporters of the former president in Rabaa al-Adawiya and al-Nahda Squares. Houses of worship and Coptic-owned property have been systematically targeted and the geographic scope of the attacks has spread to several villages and districts within single governorates; the resulting damage is unprecedented.
At least 45 churches came under simultaneous attack in various governorates as soon as procedures to clear the two sit-ins began, resulting in the death of 7 citizens, the torching of 25 churches, the looting and destruction of 7 churches and the partial destruction of 5 more churches. This is in addition to assaults on numerous schools, civic associations and church-affiliated social services buildings.
Today, the EIPR issued a report on incidents of sectarian violence it documented from 10 July to 11 August, as well as a list of attacks on houses of worship and property owned by Coptic citizens since the dispersal of the two pro-Morsy sit-ins on 14 August to 17 August.
In a previous report issued on 10 July, the EIPR cautioned against the typical approach of various state agencies—which is both slow and ineffective—to the wave of attacks on Coptic citizens and churches that followed the mass protests on 30 June that culminated in the removal of the former president. The security apparatus in particular has not changed the way it deals with such attacks, an approach inherited from the era of ousted president Mubarak. It has failed to intervene to prevent escalation and has been slow to respond to citizens pleas’ for help, despite repeatedly stressing since the beginning of the current political crisis that it is committed to protecting national unity and confronting sectarian violence, especially after the mass demonstrations of 26 July, seen as officially giving the state a popular mandate to fight “potential violence and terrorism.”
The EIPR also holds the leadership of Islamist groups politically and criminally liable for the incitement and hatred issuing from some of its prominent leaders, both on the national and local levels, which accused the Coptic religious leadership of conspiring to remove the former president. This rhetoric only feeds the current wave of sectarian attacks and exacerbates the consequences. The EIPR warns that a failure to recognize the seriousness of the incitement and hateful rhetoric, particularly in governorates in Upper Egypt, may push the country toward broad civil violence in light of the acute political crisis.
“This enormous number of sectarian attacks cannot be understood in isolation from the anti-Coptic hatred fomented by some Islamist leaders and their threats of retribution for widespread Coptic participation in protests that led to the removal of the former president,” said Ishak Ibrahim, EIPR’s program officer for freedom of religion and belief. “Nor can one ignore the lackluster response of various state agencies to sectarian attacks, which ensures that suspects can commit crimes with impunity. If law-enforcement bodies are unable or unwilling to do their jobs, officials should submit their resignations and leave the responsibility to those able to shoulder it.”
The EIPR urged the president and the prime minister to assume their political and executive responsibility and draft an urgent plan to respond to the rhetoric of incitement and hatred by some Islamist leaders and prevent further reprisals against Copts. State agencies must do their job of investigating the circumstances of these attacks and prosecute the perpetrators and inciters, while also investigating the police response to sectarian violence and their role in exacerbating it. The EIPR also asked the government to provide rapid aid to the victims proportionate to the losses and damage to their homes and property.