This year Coptic Christian activists reported at least four attacks on churches or affiliated buildings in addition to Wasta, taking place in the governorates of Aswan, Beni Suef, Cairo and Fayoum.
A sore point for decades and even centuries has been discriminatory practices that prevent Copts from building or restoring their houses of worship. This was the case under Mubarak and the Supreme Council of Allied Forces, which was ruling Egypt before the election of Morsi.
“It is high time for the authorities to take sectarian violence and threats seriously. The Egyptian authorities are responsible for ensuring the protection of people, their homes and livelihoods. Time and time again, President Morsi claimed to be President of all Egyptians. Now, he needs to take action to ensure that sectarian violence is prevented and when it occurs it is properly investigated, and those responsible face justice,” said Amnesty’s Sahraoui.
“By not prosecuting those responsible for sectarian violence, the Egyptian authorities are signaling Coptic Christians can be attacked with impunity,” he added.
Egypt is a state party to a number of treaties which prohibit any forms of discrimination based on the grounds of religion including the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
Heba Morayef, the director of Human Rights Watch in Egypt, said, “Among Coptic Christians, there has often been a sense of being minority under attack. But that sense has been heightened.”
She said that the attack in the fall of 2011 that killed 29 Coptic protesters in front of the government’s radio and television center, an area known as ‘Maspero,’ was particularly searing and intimidating.
“Maspero completely traumatized the Coptic community … There was a sense that they were under attack combined with feeling they were not protected by the law has created a climate of fear.”
A Western diplomat in Cairo interviewed by GlobalPost said, “The fear is very real and very palpable, worse than I have ever seen it. But it is a fear about what is coming rather than what is actually going on or might happen.”
The US international religious freedom report actually showed a decline in incidents in 2012 compared to some of the worst years in the mid 1990s, he said, but there was a documented increase in intolerance in places like Upper Egypt where in the aftermath of toppling Mubarak Islamists feel emboldened to assert their point of view and their authority.
Dr. Naguib Gibraiel, head of the Egyptian Human Rights Organization, said that the climate of fear has driven 100,000 Copts to emigrate from Egypt in the last year. He said 40 percent went to the US, 15 percent to Canada, 10 percent to Australia and the rest to Europe. When asked how he arrived at these precise figures, he explained that he went parish to parish counting but that he did not have solid data to back up his estimates. Instead, he offered the anecdotal evidence of his own family, saying of his four sons, only one remained in Egypt. One is in Canada, one in Los Angeles, and one in Australia. The one who stayed in Egypt is an engineer but hoping to emigrate to the US later this year.
“Our family is, sadly, very typical. We are losing our Coptic culture in Egypt,” he said.
And Gibraiel said that the diminishing influence was evident in politics as well. He said that of the country’s 508 parliamentarians, only two Copts were elected and six were appointed. Of the country’s 27 governors, none are Copts. Of the 34 ministers in the government, one is a Copt. No heads of government-run newspapers are Copts. They are effectively shut out from power, he says.
He added, “The Copts here fear for the lives, their property, their wives and their daughters. They see their churches burned, their daughters kidnapped. And of course those with money are quick to leave.”