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Egypt: Situation of Coptic Christians, including treatment; state protection (July 2013-October 2013)

Publisher Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada
Publication Date 17 October 2013
Citation / Document Symbol EGY104625.EF
Related Document Égypte : information sur la situation des chrétiens coptes et le traitement qui leur est réservé; la protection offerte par l'État (juillet 2013-octobre 2013)
Cite as Canada: Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, Egypt: Situation of Coptic Christians, including treatment; state protection (July 2013-October 2013), 17 October 2013, EGY104625.EF, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/527a47564.html [accessed 31 August 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

1. Overview

According to some sources, since the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, there has been an increase in attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt (AI 20 Aug. 2013; MidEast Christian News 13 Aug. 2013; Human Rights Watch 21 Aug. 2013). In August 2013, the Christian Post, a Washington-based independent Christian media source (The Christian Post n.d.), stated that the Copts and the churches were the focus of "widespread" attacks by Muslim Brotherhood supporters, and that cases of violence had been reported almost daily in recent weeks (ibid. 15 Aug. 2013). In addition, since the violent repression of pro-Morsi supporters by the new regime on 14 August 2013, Coptic Christians were again the target of violence (AI 20 Aug. 2013; The Christian Science Monitor 18 Aug. 2013; The New York Times 16 Aug. 2013). At least 500 protestors were killed that day (ibid.; The Christian Post 15 Aug. 2013). On 16 August 2013, the New York Times reported an "explosion of anti-Christian attacks over the last three days". Amnesty International (AI) reported on 20 August 2013, that "there has been an unprecedented rise in sectarian violence across Egypt targeting Coptic Christians".

A few sources report that the supporters of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood blame the Copts for the ousting of Mr. Morsi, which encourages the violent reprisals (The New York Times 16 Aug. 2013; EIPR 15 July 2013a; The Christian Post 7 July 2013). Pro-Morsi supporters allegedly called for violence against Christians (ibid. 15 Aug. 2013; The New York Times 20 Aug. 2013). On 14 August 2013, some mosques also used loudspeakers to incite violence and reprisals against Christians (The Christian Science Monitor 12 Sept. 2013; AI 9 Oct. 2013, 2). According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), an independent NGO established in 2002 that works to strengthen and protect basic rights and freedoms in Egypt (EIPR n.d.), anti-Christian flyers were distributed in the governorates of North Sinai, Minya and Beni Soueif in June and July 2013 (ibid. 15 July 2013b).

2. State Protection

Several sources state that security forces did not take measures to prevent sectarian violence or to protect the Coptic Christians (AI 20 Aug. 2013; Human Rights Watch 23 July 2013; EIPR 15 July 2013a). In July 2013, the EIPR stated that security forces reacted slowly, failing to intervene to protect Coptic Christians despite their knowledge of the "charged atmosphere" and despite their presence on the scene during the attacks (15 July 2013a). Amnesty International said that the security forces were shockingly derelict in their duty in August, especially because the violence against the Copts "should have been anticipated following the dramatic rise in similar incidents" since the fall of President Morsi (20 Aug. 2013). According to the Christian Science Monitor,

the lack of state response to the wave of attacks on 14 August 2013 and the consistent failure to provide security in places like Delja, is a reminder that, Islamists in power or not, Egypt has a history of failing to secure and protect Christians or bring their attackers to justice, a failure that continues today. (12 Sept. 2013)

According to the Christian Science Monitor, a Boston-based international news organization (The Christian Science Monitor n.d.), a spokesman for the foreign ministry cited attacks on police stations as the reason that police failed to intervene against the 14 August violence (ibid. 18 Aug. 2013). A representative of the EIPR also stated that, in most cities, mobs attacked police stations before churches (The Christian Science Monitor 18 Aug. 2013). Human Rights Watch reports that, according to witnesses, some men attacked the Delga police station (Minya governorate) at the same time as others attacked the church, and some men attacked the Kirdassa police station (Giza governorate) before attacking the church in that city (Human Rights Watch 21 Aug. 2013). During an interview with Human Rights Watch, the head of the Minya security directorate stated that 12 of the governorate's police stations were attacked and that the attackers killed 13 police officers and injured another 30 (ibid.). In Kirdassa (also written Kerdasa), the attackers allegedly killed at least 11 police officers and then mutilated their bodies (ibid.; AI 9 Oct. 2013, 3; The Times 20 Sept. 2013). The authorities allegedly resumed control of the city on 19 September 2013 (ibid.).

According to some sources, the Egyptian authorities announced that the government would take financial responsibility for the rebuilding of the damaged churches (The Christian Post 15 Aug. 2013; The New York Times 16 Aug. 2013; AI 9 Oct. 2013, 3).

3. Incidents of Violence

Amnesty International reports that, according to witnesses, the sectarian violence was "marked by the use of sectarian and inflammatory slogans and chants" and was frequently preceded by speeches or gestures of incitement from local mosques and religious leaders (ibid., 2).

According to the New York Times, many of the August 2013 anti-Christian attacks took place in Upper Egypt, the country's poorest region in the central and southern region, but there was also violence in Cairo and Alexandria (16 Aug. 2013). Similarly, the Christian Science Monitor reports that Christians have been attacked throughout the country, but especially in the south, where there is a large Christian population and where sectarian violence is common (18 Aug. 2013). Amnesty International reported on 20 August 2013 that

[t]he 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. (AI 20 Aug. 2013)

3.1 Attacks Against Churches and Other Coptic Buildings

Various sources state that several churches were burned, looted or ransacked during the troubles surrounding the overthrow of Mr. Morsi (The Christian Post 15 Aug. 2013; Africa Research Bulletin Sept. 2013, 19821; IPS 20 Aug. 2013; Time.com 26 Aug. 2013; Coptic Cultural Centre 21 Aug. 2013). According to Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic Christians rights group (IPS 20 Aug. 2013), 50 churches were attacked (60 according to Amnesty International) between 14 and 20 August 2013; among them, 38 were completely destroyed (AI 20 Aug. 2013; IPS 20 Aug. 2013). Maspero Youth Union also reports that the attacks against churches occurred in nine governorates in the country (IPS 20 Aug. 2013). The Coptic Cultural Centre in Cairo (Daily News Egypt 18 Feb. 2013) states that 49 churches and convents were attacked during that same period (21 Aug. 2013). The EIPR reports attacks against churches and other Coptic and Christian buildings in 11 governorates between 14 and 17 August, namely: Cairo, Giza, Beni Soueif, Minya, Assyout, Sohag, Qena, Alexandria, Gharbiya, Suez, North Sinai and Luxor (25 Aug. 2013a). According to the EIPR, the Minya governorate was the most affected-18 churches were attacked there; the majority of them were burned by people protesting in the street in favour of Mohamed Morsi (25 Aug. 2013a). On 26 August 2013, an article in Time reported that, since 14 August 2013, 60 churches had been attacked.

Sources report that dozens of Christians' homes and businesses have been ransacked or burned (AI 20 Aug. 2013; IPS 20 Aug. 2013). Some Christian schools and other religious buildings were also attacked (The Christian Post 15 Aug. 2013; The Christian Science Monitor 18 Aug. 2013; EIPR 25 Aug. 2013a).

Human Rights Watch reports that, according to residents in Minya city, the week following the fall of Mr. Morsi, stores owned by Copts in downtown were painted with an "X" to distinguish them from Muslim-owned stores (21 Aug. 2013). The marked buildings subsequently came under attack (Human Rights Watch 21 Aug. 2013; AI 9 Oct. 2013, 9). According to the French news site La Croix, in Mallawi, the second city in the governorate of Minya, several stores belonging to Copts were marked with a red or black cross on 15 August and were attacked the following day (16 Sept. 2013). Four churches and one Christian school in that city were also pillaged and burned that day (La Croix 16 Sept. 2013).

According to the Christian Science Monitor, on 30 June 2013, residents of the city of Al Nazla in the governorate of Fayoum marked Christian stores and homes with red graffiti (18 Aug. 2013). Some sources state that, on 14 August, a mosque in Al Nazla broadcast through its loudspeaker allegations that Christians were attacking Muslims (The Sunday Times 25 Aug. 2013; The Christian Science Monitor 18 Aug. 2013; AI 9 Oct. 2013, 12). According to other sources, the mosques in Al Nazla called for revenge (The Economist 24 Aug. 2013; The New York Times 20 Aug. 2013). A crowd attacked the police station and then the Saint Virgin Mary Church; they looted and burned the church (The Christian Science Monitor 18 Aug. 2013; The Sunday Times 25 Aug. 2013; The Economist 24 Aug. 2013). According to the London magazine The Economist, the destruction of the church was "systematic and total" (ibid.). The police did not intervene (The New York Times 20 Aug. 2013; The Christian Science Monitor 18 Aug. 2013; AI 9 Oct. 2013, 12) even though residents called them repeatedly (ibid.).

3.2 Attacks Against Coptic Christians

According to the Coptic Cultural Centre, seven people were killed in [translation] "anti-Christian persecutions" between 14 and 20 August 2013 (21 Aug. 2013). The EIPR also reports that seven people were killed in the "wave of sectarian violence" (25 Aug. 2013c). Human Rights Watch stated on 21 August 2013, that at least three Copts and one Muslim have been killed since 14 August in the sectarian attacks in Delga, Minya and Cairo. The Inter Press Service (IPS) news agency also stated that seven people were kidnapped during the attacks against the churches (IPS 20 Aug. 2013), while the Coptic Cultural Centre reported 17 kidnappings between 14 and 20 August (21 Aug. 2013).

3.2.1 Minya Governorate

The EIPR reports that attacks against Christians in the city of Delga (also written Dalga, Dilga, Delja) began on 30 June 2013, and continued for several days (15 July 2013b). On July 3, the St. George's Church was pillaged and burned (The Christian Post 7 July 2013; Human Rights Watch 23 July 2013) by supporters of Mr. Morsi, according to Human Rights Watch (ibid.). Human Rights Watch also reports that eight people-Copts and Muslims-were injured and that, according to the priest at the church, the police and the army did not come to the church during or after the attacks (ibid.). According to EIPR, some people associated with Islamist movements encouraged violence against Copts and used megaphones to publicly accuse Christians of overthrowing Mr. Morsi and of attacking Morsi supporters (15 July 2013b). The organization reports that a crowd of attackers "terrorized" Christians by banging on their doors with stones and iron rods and by looting their houses (EIPR 15 July 2013b). Some attackers also shot a women (ibid.; AI 9 Oct. 2013, 10) and set fire to her home (EIPR 15 July 2013b).

Sources state that some Islamist supporters of Mr. Morsi took over Delga in July 2013, after driving out the police, and occupied it until mid-September 2013 (The Guardian 17 Sept. 2013; Financial Times 17 Sept. 2013; Canadian Press 19 Sept. 2013). Security forces tried twice to recapture the city, without success (The Christian Post 7 Sept. 2013; The Guardian 17 Sept. 2013). According to several sources, Copts who did not flee the city were forced to bribe Muslims to protect them from the violence (The Christian Post 7 Sept. 2013; The Christian Science Monitor 12 Sept. 2013; The Guardian 17 Sept. 2013). Other sources report that the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters (or Islamists, according to the Christian Post) forced all Copts to pay a "jizya", which was historically imposed on non-Muslims conquered by Muslims, to safeguard their existence (The Washington Times 10 Sept. 2013; The Christian Post 11 Sept. 2013). According to the Christian Post, the tax was forced on any Copt who refused to convert to Islam (ibid.). Some of those who refused to pay or who did not pay were attacked (ibid.; The Washington Times 10 Sept. 2013). Interviewed by The Christian Science Monitor and The Guardian, a Christian lawyer from Delga stated that a mob of Islamists attacked his house and killed his cousin, dragging his body through the streets (The Christian Science Monitor 12 Sept. 2013; The Guardian 17 Sept. 2013). According to Amnesty International, his body was removed from his tomb twice after being buried (9 Oct. 2013, 10).

In the village of Beni Ahmed (also written Bani Ahmed) and its surrounding area, on 3 August 2013, 18 people were wounded in sectarian violence between Copts and supporters of Mr. Morsi (AI 20 Aug. 2013; EIPR 25 Aug. 2013b). According to the Minya and Abu Qurqas bishopric, the homes, shops or vehicles of 43 citizens were looted or torched (ibid.). According to the EIPR, in neighbouring villages, Muslims circulated in cars with megaphones, calling out to people to participate in the confrontations (ibid.). The same source reports that the church leaders and some citizens called the police and army, asking for help, but that they had to wait three hours before an "inadequate" police force arrived to control the situation, when the force had come from a police station 10 minutes from the village (ibid.).

On 30 September 2013, a bishop of Minya escaped an assassination attempt in Abu Qorqas (AINA 30 Sept. 2013; Daily News Egypt 30 Sept. 2013). Some armed individuals shot at the bishop while in his vehicle and then at a home where he had taken refuge, for more than 90 minutes (ibid.; AINA 30 Sept. 2013). According to the Assyrian International News Agency (AINA), the bishop had taken refuge in the home of a village Copt (ibid.). Security forces were allegedly contacted immediately and arrived on site 90 minutes after the events ended (ibid.).

3.2.2 Luxor Governorate

On 5 July 2013, in the neighbourhood of Naga Hassan in the village of Dab'iya (also written Dabaaya), a wave of anti-Christian violence lasted at least 17 hours and led to the death of four Copt men (AI July 2013, 5; Human Rights Watch 23 July 2013). The attackers also attacked, pillaged and set fire to about 110 Christian-owned homes (ibid.; AI July 2013, 10). Some witnesses interviewed by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and EIPR stated that security forces were present in the city-at least 60 officers, according to Human Rights Watch (23 July 2013). However, according to Amnesty International and EIPR, the security forces present did not really try to prevent the attacks (AI July 2013, 5; EIPR 15 July 2013b). Human Rights Watch states that security forces resumed control of the situation "[o]nly after the killings" (23 July 2013). Some police officers helped women and children leave a home under siege by a number of attackers, but they allegedly forced the men to stay inside; the attackers then forced their way into the home and beat four men to death and seriously injured a few others (EIPR 15 July 2013b; AI July 2013, 5-6; Human Rights Watch 23 July 2013). According to the testimony of one of the victims, the security forces present during the attack were colluding with the attackers by letting them commit violence before them (EIPR 15 July 2013b). Human Rights Watch reports that, according to a senior local police officer, the police tried to control the mob, but without success (23 July 2013). EIPR reports that it was aware of other cases in which Muslims allegedly attacked Christians in their homes, in the presence of security forces (ibid.). Corroborating information could not be found among the sources consulted by the Research Directorate. Furthermore, the director of security of Luxor stated that there was no way that police could have controlled the situation and that it was not the police's job to stop killings, but to investigate afterwards (ibid.).

3.2.3 Other Governorates

On 6 July 2013, in the city of El-Arish, in North Sinai governorate, some armed individuals shot a Coptic priest (The Christian Post 7 July 2013; EIPR 15 July 2013b; Human Rights Watch 23 July 2013). Human Rights Watch reports the murder of two other Coptic Christians, on July 5 and 11, in North Sinai, while pointing out that it was not certain whether these two people and the Coptic priest were killed because of their religion (ibid.).

According to Amnesty International, on 15 August 2013, one Copt was killed and at least three others injured by participants in a pro-Morsi march; they attacked the Christian block of Izbit al-Nakhl, in the Giza governorate (20 Aug. 2013). The family of the deceased victim allegedly filed a complaint with the police, but no investigation had been opened on 20 Aug. 2013 (AI 20 Aug. 2013).

This Response was prepared after researching publicly accessible information currently available to the Research Directorate within time constraints. This Response is not, and does not purport to be, conclusive as to the merit of any particular claim for refugee protection. Please find below the list of sources consulted in researching this Information Request.

References

Africa Research Bulletin. September 2013. "Egypt: Crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood". Political Social and Cultural Series. Vol. 50, No. 8.

Amnesty International (AI). 9 October2013. "'How Long Are We Going to Live in This Injustice?' Egypt's Christians Caught Between Sectarian Attacks and State Inaction". (MDE 12/058/2013) [Accessed 11 Oct. 2013]

_____. 20 Aug. 2013. "Égypte : le gouvernement doit protéger les chrétiens des violences interconfessionnelles". [Accessed 10 Oct. 2013]

_____. July 2013. Egypt: "There Was No Door on Which I Did Not Knock": Coptic Christians Caught in Attacks and State's Failures. (MDE 12/037/2013) [Accessed 11 Oct. 2013]

Assyrian International News Agency (AINA). 30 September 2013. Mary Abdelmassih. "Coptic Bishop Escapes Assassination Attempt in Egypt". [Accessed 11 Oct. 2013]

The Canadian Press. 19 September 2013. Hamza Hendawi. "Christians of Southern Egyptian Town Get No Respite After Army Wrest Control from Militants". (Factiva)

The Christian Post [Washington]. 11 September 2013. Morgan Lee. "Egypt Islamists Force Coptic Christians to Pay 'Non-Muslim Submission Tax'". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 7 September 2013. Morgan Lee. "Egypt Islamists Hold Coptic Christians Hostage, Terrorize Copt Population". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 15 August 2013. Jon Campbell. "Churches Burned in Egypt as Muslim Brotherhood Targets Coptic Christians Amid Widespread Unrest". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 7 July 2013. Anugrah Kumar. "Egypt's Coptic Priest Killed in Renewed Attacks on Christians after Morsi's Ouster". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. N.d. "The Christian Post". [Accessed 16 Oct. 2013]

The Christian Science Monitor [Boston]. 12 September 2013. Kristen Chick. "Across Egypt, Piles of Ash Where Church Pews Once Stood". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 18 August 2013. Kristen Chick. "In Egyptian Village, Christian Shops Marked Ahead of Church Attack". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. N.d. "About the Christian Science Monitor". [Accessed 16 Oct. 2013]

Coptic Cultural Centre. 21 August 2013. "Bilan des persécutions antichrétiennes entre le 14 et le 20 août en Egypte". [Accessed 11 Oct. 2013]

La Croix [Paris]. 16 September 2013. "A Minya, en Haute-Egypte, les coptes restent sur leurs gardes". [Accessed 15 Oct. 2013]

Daily News Egypt [Cairo]. 30 September 2013. Basil El-Dabh. "Minya Bishop Escapes Assassination Attempt". [Accessed 15 Oct. 2013]

_____. 18 February 2013. Nouran El-Behairy. "Egyptian Council of Churches First Meeting". [Accessed 17 Oct. 2013]

The Economist. 24 August 2013. "Egypt's Copts: the Butt of Angry Islamists". (Factiva)

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR). 25 August 2013a. "List of Attacks on Churches, Religious Buildings and Christians' Private Property from 14 August to 17 August 2013". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 25 August 2013b. "Details of Sectarian Attacks Documented by EIPR from 10 July to 11 August 2013". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 25 August 2013c. "Unprecedented Spike in Scale of Sectarian Violence and Reprisals Against Copts; Interim President and Prime Minister Must Protect Egyptians' Lives and Property and Their Houses of Worship". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 15 July 2013a. "Wave of Attacks on Copts and Churches: EIPR: Authorities Must Take Immediate Action to Protect Citizens and Houses of Worship, Bring Perpetrators and Inciters to Justice". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 15 July 2013b. "Sectarian Incitement and Attacks, 30 June to 9 July 2013". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. N.d. "Who We Are". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

Financial Times. 17 September 2013. Abeer Allam. "Recapture of Egyptian Town of Delga Highlights Rise in Violence". > [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

The Guardian [London]. 17 September 2013. Patrick Kingsley. "Christians Describe Reign of Terror in Town Freed from Egyptian Islamists: Dawn Police Assault Too Late for Fleeing Families: Churches Torched and Looted by Morsi Backers". (Factiva)

Human Rights Watch. 21 August 2013. "Egypt: Mass Attacks on Churches. Christians Say Pleas for Protection Fell Largely on Deaf Ears". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 23 July 2013. "Egypt: Sectarian Attacks amid Political Crisis. Scant Protection As Christians Attacked in Several Cities". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

Inter Press Service (IPS). 20 August 2013. Hisham Allam. "As Egypt Smoulders, Churches Burn". [Accessed 6 Oct. 2013]

MidEast Christian News. 13 August 2013. "Slow Response by Egyption Security Forces Aiding Violence Against Coptic Christians". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

The New York Times. 20 August 2013. Kareem Fahim. "Islamists Step Up Attacks on Christians for Supporting Morsi's Ouster". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

_____. 16 August 2013. Liam Stack. "Witness Accounts of Sectarian Attacks Across Egypt". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

The Sunday Times [London]. 25 August 2013. Hala Jaber. "'God is Great,' Mob Chanted as Church Fell". (Factiva)

Time.com. 26 August 2013. Lauren E. Bohn. "Egypt's Christians Caught in Cross Fire". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

The Times [London]. 20 September 2013. Bel Trew. "Islamists Lose Second Town in Egyptian Fightback". (Factiva)

The Washington Times. 10 September 2013. Jessica Chasmar. "Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood to Coptic Christians: Convert to Islam, or Pay 'Jizya' Tax". [Accessed 3 Oct. 2013]

Additional Sources Consulted

Internet sites, including: AsiaNews.it; The Catholic Register; Church Times; Daily News Egypt; Egypt - Government Portal, Ministry of Religious Endowments; Egyptian Center for Public Policy Studies; Global Post; International Christian Concern; Jeune Afrique; Minority Rights Group International; Portes ouvertes France; United States - Department of State, US Commission on International Religious Freedom.

Copyright notice: This document is published with the permission of the copyright holder and producer Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada (IRB). The original version of this document may be found on the offical website of the IRB at http://www.irb-cisr.gc.ca/en/. Documents earlier than 2003 may be found only on Refworld.

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