Human Rights Groups Criticize Islamists for Inciting New Violence Against Egypt’s Christians

Patrick Goodenough | August 8, 2013 | 4:29am EDT
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Although millions of Muslims supported the ousting of President Mohammed Morsi Morsi, the Christian minority has become a focus of Islamist anger as the political crisis drags on. (AP Photo, File)

( – Alarmed at the fresh targeting of Egyptian Christians since the military takeover, 16 human rights groups on Wednesday condemned both sides in the continuing standoff – Islamists for inciting violence against the religious minority and the state for not providing adequate protection.

The Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies and 15 other human rights groups accused the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies of “clear incitement to violence and religious hatred in order to achieve political gains” in the aftermath of the July 3 ousting of President Mohammed Morsi.

“Islamist groups must reject violence, put an end to all forms of speech which incites to violence or religious hatred, and condemn those involved in such acts,” they said.

The campaigners also criticized the authorities for not acting against perpetrators of sectarian violence and said the security forces have demonstrated “negligence” in protecting Christians.

“This negligence reveals that the pattern of impunity which spread during the Mubarak era and remained in place throughout the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood continues to this day, even after both of these regimes were overthrown.”

The rights groups urged the authorities to carry out urgent, impartial investigations into crimes of sectarian violence and to provide protection to the witnesses of these crimes.

As Egyptian Muslims prepared to mark the end-of-Ramadan Eid holiday on Thursday, their Orthodox Coptic compatriots have little to celebrate.

Attacks against Christians have increased over the past month, with churches, homes and stores targeted, a Coptic priest shot dead, and several other Christians killed – including a shopkeeper in the Sinai who was kidnapped and beheaded.

Last weekend in a village called Bani Ahmed, Islamists reportedly torched at least nine homes and 24 stores owned by Christians as well as vehicles. Coptic youths demonstrated outside the Supreme Court on Monday, calling for authorities to act against the perpetrators of the sectarian violence.

The minority has long been vulnerable, but the latest escalation is clearly linked to Morsi’s removal from office.

During Morsi’s year in power, Coptic Pope Tawadros became outspokenly critical of the Muslim Brotherhood administration, especially after deadly violence last April centered around the Coptic St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. He accused Morsi of not doing enough to prevent the violence.

Pope Tawadros openly supported the president’s removal from office, and was among senior religious and political figures seated on either side of army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi during his televised announcement of the takeover.

Two days later Muslim Brotherhood guide Mohamed Badie demanded that Pope Tawadros stay out of politics. (In a later message prominent Sunni cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, regarded as the Brotherhood’s spiritual leader, also accused Christians of complicity in Morsi’s ousting.)

Although millions of Egyptian Muslims supported the military action against Morsi, and Christians make up less than 10 percent of the population, sectarian rhetoric took hold as the political crisis dragged on.

“Islamists increasingly view the 3 July events as a conspiracy by secularists and Copts against Islam and its role in government in Egypt,” the International Crisis Group said in a new report on the crisis on Wednesday. “Their predominant discourse is of the need for sacrifice for the sake of religion.”

In mid-July it was reported that Pope Tawadros had suspended customary weekly public appearances. Last weekend the church issued a statement denying reports that the he had survived an attempt on his life.

At the weekend a potential new threat against Copts emerged in the form of an audio message purported by al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.

The fugitive terrorist, an Egyptian presumed to be in Pakistan, railed against a plot to divide Egypt as had happened in Sudan, and declared that Egyptian Christians had supported the military takeover in order to carve out a Coptic state.

In a message to the Muslim world to mark Eid on Thursday, Pope Francis called for mutual respect between Muslims and Christians.

“Particular respect is due to religious leaders and to places of worship,” he said. “How painful are attacks on one or other of these!”

Last May Pope Francis hosted Pope Tawadros at the Vatican, the first meeting between the heads of the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Coptic churches in four decades.

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