Egyptian security forces have failed to protect the country's Christian minority from a wave of attacks since a deadly crackdown on loyalists of deposed Islamist president Mohamed Morsi, Amnesty International said on Wednesday.
In a detailed report, the London-based rights group said an unprecedented wave of sectarian attacks had targetted Christian churches, schools and charity buildings in the aftermath of the 14 August dispersal of two pro-Morsi protest camps in Cairo and Giza that left hundreds dead.
The rights group said upwards of 200 Christian-owned properties were attacked and 43 churches seriously damaged. At least four people were killed, it added.
The report coincides with the second anniversary of a deadly crackdown by Egypt's army on protesters outside the Maspero state television building in Cairo on 9 October 2011, in which at least 26 Coptic Christians protesters and one Muslim were killed.
“It is deeply disturbing that the Christian community across Egypt was singled out for revenge attacks over the events in Cairo by some supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi,” said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Amnesty International’s deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.
Morsi, Egypt's first democratically elected president, was deposed by the army after a turbulent year in office triggered mass protests calling for his removal. The move infuriated Islamists who decried it as a violation democracy, and some blamed Christians for backing his overthrow.
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, the leader of Egypt’s largest Christian denomination, gave his blessings to Morsi's ouster, appearing on TV along army chief Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and other political and religious figures when he announced the move and a transitional roadmap.
"In light of previous attacks, particularly since Morsi’s ousting on 3 July, a backlash against Coptic Christians should have been anticipated, yet security forces failed to prevent attacks or intervene to put an end to the violence," Sahraoui added.
According to Amnesty, in several incidents mobs armed with firearms, metal bars and knives ransacked churches and Christian properties, and desecrated religious relics. Many chanted slogans such as “God is Greatest” or used derogatory terms like “you Christian dogs."
Coptic Christians, who make up the largest minority (10 percent) in the predominantly Sunni Muslim state of 84-million people, have long complained of discrimination and periodic violent attacks by extremists.
The rights group criticised Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood for failing to sufficiently condemn the violence.
"Given the fact that these attacks were in retaliation for the crackdown on pro-Morsi sit-ins, the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood said too little too late, and laid the blame on ‘thugs’ distancing their supporters from the attacks,” said Sahraoui. “They must condemn their supporters’ actions and urge them to refrain from sectarian attacks and the use of sectarian language.”
Amnesty also said Christians had been attacked in their homes. The body of a 60-year-old Coptic Christian man shot dead at home in the southern town of Dalja was dragged through the streets by a tractor, adding that after he was buried his grave was dug up twice.
Amnesty has called for an impartial, independent investigation into the attacks and the failure of security services to quell hours-long and sometimes recurrent attacks. It said the violence signified that "Copts and other religious minorities are fair game," urging a comprehensive strategy to fight discrimination against religious minorities.
Egypt has been gripped by prolonged violence since the 3 July ouster of Morsi by Egypt's army amid mass protests. Security services have mounted a sustained clampdown campaign on Islamists, arresting hundreds including Morsi himself and senior leaders of his Brotherhood movement.
Militants elsewhere have taken up arms against the state. The army has been battling an insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, adjoining Israel and the Palestinian Gaza Strip, where Islamist militants have mounted almost daily attacks on security and army targets, killing dozens.