US State Department says Egypt's Christians still face major challenges; hails President's efforts

Ayat Al Tawy , Thursday 11 Aug 2016

In its 2015 Annual Report on International Freedom, the US State Department said Egypt's Coptic Christians still face significant challenges, says government aims to protect them

Coptic Orthodox Cathedral
File Photo: A special forces police officer stands guard to secure the area around Saint Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral before a Coptic Christmas mass in Cairo January 6, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)

The US State Department has said that Egyptian Coptic Christians still face enormous challenges, though stated that President-Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi has made efforts to protect the country's largest minority, according to its 2015 Annual Report on International Freedom released on Wednesday.

Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt's population of 90 million, have long complained of discrimination and sectarian attacks in the predominantly Sunni Muslim country.

A string of sectarian incidents have hit some of the country's southern provinces in recent weeks, home to a large Christian community and supporters of extremist Islamic groups.

"The Copts in Egypt still face significant challenges. However, President al-Sisi has…taken a very public position that the Copt community needs to be protected," David Saperstein, Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom said in its 2015 annual report.

He cited El-Sisi's two visits to Christmas mass since he came to office in 2014 and his efforts to rebuild many churches that were destroyed in the violence following the 2013 ouster of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi after mammoth protests.

A wave of sectarian violence took place over the past weeks in the governorate of Minya, where about 35% of the population is Christian.

Early in July, a Muslim mob stabbed a Coptic Christian to death during a street argument in the southern governorate of Minya.

The attack prompted President El-Sisi to warn against attempts to "drive a wedge" between Egyptians and vowed to hold wrongdoers to account.

Days earlier, in two separate incidents, a group of Muslims attacked and torched houses of Christians over a rumour that they intended to convert a building into a church.

In May, Muslim villagers torched seven homes of Christians and assaulted a Christian man's elderly mother, parading her naked in public. The assault in Minya's El-Karm village was sparked by rumours that the man was having an illicit relationship with a Muslim woman.

Local rights group, the Egyptian Initiative for Human Rights, said in a July report that Minya has been hit by 77 incidents of sectarian tension since January 2011.

Saperstein expressed concerns about blasphemy and apostasy laws as well as legislation dealing with defamation of religion in countries such as Egypt, where many people have received jail terms on charges of defaming Islam.

"I strongly affirm the U.S. Government’s opposition to blasphemy laws," Saperstein said, urging that such laws be "eliminated or, as a start, not enforced."


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