Tuesday,19 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)
Tuesday,19 December, 2017
Issue 1160, (15 - 21 August 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Targeting Copts

The number of attacks against Copts in Upper Egypt is a cause of growing concern, reports Reem Leila

Al-Ahram Weekly

Sectarian violence has grown since the ouster of former president Mohamed Morsi.

On 1 August six Copts were injured in villages around Minya during clashes with Morsi supporters. Eyewitnesses report that Morsi supporters forced Christians from the village of Nazlet Ebeid to abandon their jobs in the brick factories where most village residents work. In Delga, a village south of Minya, the houses and property of several Christians were attacked by Morsi supporters on the evening of 1 August along with a number of churches.

In July a priest was murdered by unknown gunmen in North Sinai. On 6 August 10-year-old Jessi Boulus was killed by a single shot to the chest as she returned home from her Bible class in a working-class area of Cairo.

Boulus, says a report issued by Amnesty International, is one of seven Copts killed in sectarian violence in Egypt in recent months. In an orgy of arson Christian owned shops and houses as well as churches have been torched.

On 11 August 15 Christians were injured and four houses and a church were set on fire in the village of Diabeya in Beni Sweif governorate. Clashes erupted following a confrontation between a member of the ultra-conservative Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya group and a Coptic resident of the village. Members of Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya subsequently attacked Coptic villagers.

Human rights organisations have expressed concern at the seeming inability of Egypt’s security forces to protect Christians. They have called for an independent investigation into attacks against Christians and on the failure to protect their property.

Amnesty International, the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, Egyptians against Religious Discrimination, the Andalus Institute for Tolerance, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, the Arab Network for Human Rights Information and the Arab Penal Reform Organisation issued a joint statement blaming the authorities for failing to prevent sectarian clashes.

“No concrete action is being taken to combat these clashes,” says Dina Al-Tahawi of Amnesty International. “Copts’ feelings of vulnerability are increasing despite the 30 June Revolution. Copts had hoped their security situation would improve after the ousting of Islamist president Morsi.”

“The ouster of Morsi and his group was a relief for Copts,” says Bishop Antoine Rafik of Minya. “Both Muslims and Copts had realised that Morsi’s early promises were false and would never be fulfilled. Accordingly mass demonstrations against his rule took place.”

Unfortunately, the Muslim Brotherhood has become more dangerous since they were forced from office. Now, says Rafik, “they want to impose themselves by using force and violence”.

“We are doing our best to face them but young children, old people and women are paying a high price.”

Emad Gad, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, believes Egypt’s Copts have become a target for discontented Islamists who openly accuse the Church of playing a role in the ousting of Morsi.

Gad points out that General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi’s televised announcement of Morsi’s removal was made in the presence of Pope Tawadros II and Sheikh Ahmed Al-Tayeb, the Grand Sheikh of Al-Azhar, among other officials. “Pope Tawadros II has said that the roadmap mentioned by Al-Sisi was set by honorable people who had Egypt’s best interests at heart. Islamists understood this as the Church conspiring with the army in toppling their Islamist leader. But it was not only the pope who praised the roadmap, there was also Al-Tayeb and other Muslim intellectuals. Which begs the question why are Morsi’s supporter singling out Christians for attack?”

Mustafa Al-Sayed, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, disputes suggestions that Copts are being singled out. Morsi’s supporters, he says, are attacking all their opponents. “They believe that by resorting to violence the people — including the army and police — will surrender and let Morsi return to power. They are day dreaming,” says Al-Sayed.

“They attack for the sake of attack. The fact is that sectarian clashes have always taken place but they have never impacted on the good bonds between the majority of Muslims and Copts. Both parties understood these incidents as clashes between individuals, whether Muslims attacking Copts or vice versa.”

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