By Nourhan Dakroury
Security forces’ failure to prevent sectarian attacks is a “shocking dereliction of duty,” Amnesty International said in a report on Tuesday, calling on the government to better protect Christians in Egypt.
“The backlash against Coptic Christians should have been anticipated following the dramatic rise in similar incidents since Mohamed Morsi was ousted,” wrote Hassiba Hadja Sahraoui, deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International.
Sahraoui added that those involved in the attacks should be investigated and brought to justice.
Amnesty cited a report released by Maspero Youth Union on Saturday with a count of all the churches and Christian-owned properties which were recently attacked and destroyed nationwide.
According to the report, 38 churches have been attacked and completely destroyed across Egypt and 23 churches have been partially damaged, with 21 of the attacks combined occurring in Al-Minya, where the situation is exceptionally bad, as reported by Amnesty.
The Amnesty report read: “The situation appears to be especially dire in the Al-Minya governorate, where local residents, including a police officer, told Amnesty International that Coptic Christians felt under siege by the alarming rise of sectarian violence particularly in the absence of protection by security forces.”
On 3 August, 15 were injured and three houses were set on fire in sectarian clashes, which broke out after a verbal dispute between a Muslim and a Copt, in Bani Ahmed village in Al-Minya.
Reconciliation talks were held between Christians and Muslims in Bani Ahmed on 11 August where all parties agreed to drop charges filed against each other and exile anyone who tries to worsen the situation.
The reconciliation was criticised by the General Bishop of Al-Minya, describing it as a short term solution while also criticising security forces for not protecting citizens.
Sahraoui also criticised interim prime minister Hazem El-Beblawi’s response. “Condemning the violence is not enough,” she said. “The tragic attacks were no surprise given the inflammatory and sectarian language used by some Morsi supporters, scapegoating Christians for the crackdown they suffered.”
El-Beblawi had made a phone call to Pope Tawadros II, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, announcing his solidarity with Copts who suffered from the attacks across Egypt and condemning such attacks, assuring that the government will stand in the face of such attacks.
Amnesty reported that participants of a pro-Morsi march in Ezbet Al-Nakhl in Cairo had attacked a Christian block on 15 August, killing a Coptic Christian man, Fawzi Louka, and injuring three others, in addition to setting cars and stores there ablaze.
Local residents reported that people marching were using derogatory sectarian and agitating language in their chants, according to Amnesty.
Louka’s nephew, Khaled, reported that protesters were shooting randomly in the air and at buildings while insulting Christians.
Amnesty visited the area on 18 August, reporting that the damages done to Christian owned properties was clear, adding that investigations do not appear to have started so far.
“In the current political stand off, both the Egyptian authorities and the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood have shamefully failed to prevent and stop attacks on Coptic Christians,” the report concluded. “Immediate measures must be taken to ensure their safety.”