The Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs denounced Tuesday statements released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) commenting on the bombing of St. Peter and St. Paul Church, which claimed the lives of 25 people and injured another 49 on Sunday.
In an official statement, ministry spokesperson Ahmed Abou Zeid said: “While the incident stirred global solidarity with Egypt in its fight against terrorism, the two organisations chose to spin the incident to suit a prejudiced and politically motivated narrative of sectarian tensions in Egypt and to portray a state of delinquency on the part of the government in protecting Coptic Egyptians, while insinuating a deficient Egyptian justice system, with no resemblance to the truth.”
Abou Zeid accused the two organisations of “showing tolerance to terrorism” instead of standing against human rights violations. “It is indeed disgraceful and utterly lamentable that they failed to depict the bombing incident as a terrorist attack, nor did they show any sign of sympathy for the victims or their families,” he stated.
The statement was also a response to the criticism leveled at the Egyptian government by the two organizations, which targeted security measures and the judicial system.
HRW’s statement began: “The horrific bombing that killed worshippers at Cairo’s main Coptic Orthodox cathedral compound on 11 December is the latest attack targeting Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. Egyptian authorities should bring to justice those responsible for the violence and take measures to properly protect the Coptic community from such attacks.”
Describing the incident as a “horrific bombing” and “egregious attack”, the statement didn’t express condolences nor solidarity with the Egyptian government in its fight against terrorism like the UN or the European Union. Rather, it focused on how authorities have failed to protect Copts from attacks on them and their churches, referring to older cases, including the 2011 bombing of the Saints Church in Alexandria.
“The government’s recurring practice of neglecting the rights of Egypt’s Coptic Christians needs to end,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, MENA director at HRW. “The authorities should begin by treating the cathedral bombing with the gravity it demands.”
Meanwhile, Amnesty also considered the act as part of ongoing sectarian violence. Its statement led with: “The Egyptian authorities must do everything in their power to ensure that the investigation they have announced into today’s attack is effective, independent and impartial and brings to justice those responsible. They must send a message that attacks targeting religious minorities will not be tolerated.”
Like HRW, Amnesty referred to the other deadly attack on the church in Alexandria. It described Sunday’s attack as “deeply disturbing”.
“The authorities should show zero tolerance for all sectarian violence and prosecute those responsible, instead of relying on customary ‘reconciliation meetings’ between communities,” said Philip Luther, research and advocacy director for the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty.
For his part, Abou Zeid considered that the statements’ “selective approach in dealing with the aftermath of last Sunday’s terrorist attack only aims at achieving narrow interests, and producing a doom-laden analysis that is totally disconnected from reality, with the sole purpose of criticising the Egyptian government, and in startling disregard for the ferocity of the bloody trail of terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians. In doing so, they are not just risking eroding their claims to high moral grounds. They are also not providing an enabling environment to combat vicious terrorism.”
Both the HRW and Amnesty statements mentioned that at the time they were issued no group had claimed responsibility for the attack. It is unclear whether this was one reason for abstaining from using the term “terrorism” in their depiction of the events.
On Tuesday evening, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. The Egyptian Interior Ministry had previously established that the perpetrators were affiliated to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.