Last Updated: Monday, 22 January 2018, 10:32 GMT

State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 - Egypt

Publisher Minority Rights Group International
Publication Date 24 September 2013
Cite as Minority Rights Group International, State of the World's Minorities and Indigenous Peoples 2013 - Egypt, 24 September 2013, available at: [accessed 22 January 2018]
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.

In June 2012 the country elected its first Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. This marked a turning point for Egyptians generally and minorities in particular. There were hopes that Morsi could be a president 'for all Egyptians', as he said on several occasions, but Morsi excluded opponents from decision-making processes and appointed members of the Muslim Brotherhood to key positions in government.

Morsi faced repeated controversy in taking some decisions, such as setting the date of the House of Representatives elections for April 2013, despite widespread fears that the country was not yet prepared, and with regard to the reinstating of the People's Assembly (the lower house of parliament) in July, despite a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court that the electoral law was flawed. Morsi was also criticized for rushing the draft Constitution to referendum in December. Although nearly two-thirds of voters backed the new Constitution, it was widely criticized for ignoring women and not going far enough to protect minorities. For example, Article 43 affirmed freedom of religion but limited it to Islam, Christianity and Judaism – risking the further exclusion of Bahá'is. Several articles appeared to criminalize defamation of religion; similar clauses or legislation in other countries have led to the targeting of minorities.[2]

Religious minorities, including Copts, Shi'as and Bahá'is, continued to experience discrimination and their situation did not improve in 2012. There has been an increase in attacks on Christians and churches in Egypt since the fall of the former regime. The Egyptian government has failed or been slow to protect Copts, who comprise about 10 per cent of the population, and other religious minorities.

There were a number of incidents in which Copts and churches were targeted during the year. In January 2012, homes of Copts in Sharbat village, near Alexandria, were burned following rumours of an alleged relationship between a married Muslim woman and a Christian man. In February, eight Christian families were evicted from the village by police, and local religious and political figures, reportedly following a so-called 'reconciliation' session. The eviction was overturned two weeks later after media campaigns and a visit by some parliamentarians to the village; however no one was prosecuted. In August, in Dahshour, Giza governorate, about 100 families escaped after Christian homes and shops were set on fire.

While the number of fatalities and injuries from sectarian violence fell in 2012 compared with 2011, the situation remained very serious and escalated in early 2013 with the attack on the Coptic Orthodox St Mark's Cathedral, seat of the Coptic Pope Tawadros II, in April 2013. Two people were killed and over 80 were injured. Police fired tear gas into the compound and were accused of standing by as assailants attacked those inside. The congregation had gathered to mourn four Copts who had died the weekend before in religious violence in Khosous. A Muslim also died in that earlier incident.

During 2012 a number of Copts were imprisoned on blasphemy charges. In September Bishoy Kameel, a Copt from Sohag, was detained and then sentenced to six years in prison after posting cartoons on Facebook allegedly insulting to the Prophet Muhammad and President Morsi. Also in September, Alber Saber, an atheist from a Coptic family, was sentenced to three years' imprisonment on blasphemy charges with regard to both Islam and Christianity. He posted videos critical of religions. He was released in January 2013 and left the country. In contrast, Ahmed Mohammed Abdullah, known as Abu Islam, mocked Christianity on his TV show and tore the Bible in front of the American Embassy in Cairo. He was tried but released on bail.

In May, 12 Copts in Minya were sentenced to life in prison and eight Muslims were acquitted by an Emergency State Security Court in connection with clashes between Muslims and Christians in 2011. No Muslims were jailed on this occasion. The case went to retrial in January 2013.

The violence and lack of accountability gave rise to a growing climate of impunity. Moreover, legislation remained in place requiring official permission that made it difficult for Coptic communities to construct churches; no new churches were built during 2012. A rising number of Copts were leaving the country by the end of 2012, according to community leaders.

Shi'a Muslims, Bahá'is and other religious minorities also face discrimination. Analysts fear that Egypt is becoming increasingly divided along religious and political lines. The lack of official recognition of Shi'a Islam and the Bahá'i faith puts these groups in a difficult position with regard to their religious practices and their daily lives. Some Egyptian Sunnis question whether Shi'as are real Muslims; this stereotype persists in spite of some attempts by al-Azhar University, a leading Sunni institution in Egypt and the Muslim world, to bring Sunnis and Shi'as together.

In January 2012, Egyptian authorities reportedly closed the Shi'a Husseiniya mosque in Cairo to prevent Shi'a Muslims from observing the annual Ashura rituals. The mosque had only just been opened. Shi'as are forbidden from building their own religious places where they can practise their beliefs. There were no Shi'a representatives in the Constituent Assembly. In addition, there have been media attacks on Shi'as by some Salafist TV channels (Salafists are a strictly orthodox Sunni Muslim sect, which advocates a return to the early Islam of the time of the Prophet and the first four Caliphates).

Mohamed Afour, a Shi'a teacher, was sentenced to a year in prison after having been arrested while reportedly practising his Shi'a rituals in a mosque. The Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said that he was sentenced because of his faith. The state continues to apply discriminatory measures against Shi'as, while leaving the community exposed to the growing danger of Salafi extremism, according to Ahmad Rasem El-Nafis, a prominent Shi'a scholar. According to El-Nafis, the Egyptian authorities do not offer adequate protection.

Bahá'is were previously not eligible to obtain identity cards because the only options under 'religion' were Muslim, Christian or Jew. But in 2009 a court allowed Bahá'is to leave the field empty. However, many of them have yet to receive identity cards, and this affects their daily lives, regarding matters such as inheritance, legal marriage and pensions.

With regard to women, sexual harassment continued without any serious steps by the government to stop it. For example, in June, at least six Egyptian and foreign women were sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square, Cairo. On rare occasions, cases were referred to the courts but there have been no prosecutions of those who committed these acts. The only military officer who was tried for sexual assault of some female protesters was acquitted by a military judge.

Moreover, an article guaranteeing equality between men and women was removed from the 2012 Constitution, although there is provision for equality before the law without discrimination and an article that says that the state shall guarantee coordination between the duties of the woman and her public work. It will also provide protection and care for divorced and widowed women.

With regard to Nubians, activist Manal al-Tiby was the representative for Nubians in the Constituent Assembly, but she withdrew her membership in September 2012 in protest against what she described as the domination of Islamists in the drafting of the Constitution. The new Constitution makes no mention of Nubians as a distinct ethnic group. Tens of Nubians held demonstrations against selling land that they claim is ancient Nubian property. The government replied that development projects in this area were planned to benefit the Nubian community. 'Nubians want full citizenship, where their history is celebrated and taught in schools' curricula, going back to the land around the lake, naming the lake (currently called Lake Nasser) Nubia Lake and having a say in the development plans in their region,' according to writer and activist Fatma Emam. Emam was referring to the mass relocation of whole Nubian communities in 1964 to make way for the Aswan High Dam on the Nile.


2. In July 2013, interim President Adly Mahmud Mansour issued a decree outlining steps to be taken to revise the 2012 Constitution.

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