A group of experts, advocates and faith leaders with an interest in Egypt, religious freedom and human rights have released a statement expressing concern at the increasing frequency of attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the manner in which such attacks are being reported by international and local media.
At least 60 people were injured on 14 May 2011, when Christians protesting outside Egypt’s state television building in Cairo at the attacks on two churches on the previous weekend that left 12 dead were themselves attacked.
According to media reports, around 100 people attacked the protesters with stones and petrol bombs, and at least two people sustained gunshot wounds. Fighting continued for several hours before the army moved to restore order.
The letter states: “The collapse of the powerful state apparatus and the subsequent power vacuum this created, however, quickly opened a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of social problems that the Mubarak regime had either maintained or failed to address. As anticipated, we are now witnessing political struggles for power and influence in the new Egypt.
“While most of this is a necessary part of the emergence of true democracy in Egypt, the increase in and intensity of attacks on Christians are indicators of imminent civil unrest and the potential for widespread ethno-religious violence that demands an immediate response.”
The letter highlights the established pattern of the attacks and the lack of action from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. It continues: “Yet far from upholding the revolutionary spirit of unity we witnessed in January and February, the Armed Forces not only fail to provide adequate protection, but also continue to follow the policy of Mubarak’s regime by failing to uphold justice or arrest the real culprits, and by forcing reconciliation meetings on the victims that favor their attackers.”
With regards to the inaccurate reporting of the attacks on Christians by both local and international media, the letter states: “Both local and international media reporting of the attacks have been deeply problematic. Mainstream Egyptian media describes such incidents as communal clashes, with at times, inaccurate reports that they are incited by Coptic Christians. Some Islamic media uses harsher and more dangerous tone, with frequent calls to “punish” and ostracise the 10 million strong Coptic community.
“The international media is reporting the attacks as ‘sectarian clashes’. However, these events are not clashes between two sects, such as Sunni and Shiite clashes in Iraq; they constitute a disturbing pattern of escalating attacks and violence against a minority community.
“Erroneous wording in media reports enable radical groups to continue their aggression, and the Egyptian authorities to remain oblivious and insensitive towards a vulnerable minority.”