Mohamed ElBaradei, leading liberal figure and secretary-general of the Dostor Party, posted comments on Twitter arguing that harsh sanctions must be imposed for discrimination and crimes motivated by prejudice, in order to reduce sectarian strife in Egypt.
The former presidential hopeful’s posts came in the wake of aggravated sectarian clashes in the town of Dahshur, Giza, where tensions have risen between Muslims and Copts. ElBaradei also stressed that "promoting and applying values of tolerance, and ensuring equality between citizens" is key to facing the recurrent problem.
"We have a sectarian problem that is intensifying and spreading," ElBaradei wrote. "Talking about social fabric, reconciliation committees and forced migration of citizens without a real remedy for the root of the problem is useless nonsense."
Last Wednesday, nine people, including Director of Criminal Investigations of Giza Security Directorate Mahmoud Farouk, were injured in the Dahshur clashes, which were a continuation of other confrontations that had erupted a week earlier.
Investigations revealed that a Copt, who irons clothes for a living, and one of his Muslim customers became entangled in a brawl after the Copt accidently burned the customer’s shirt. The fight escalated and drew more people, and left one Muslim, Moaz Mohamed Mohamed, seriously wounded. He later died from his injuries, and clashes broke out again after his death.
Several houses belonging to Christian residents, in addition to two businesses in the town, were reportedly burned down by crowds angered by Mohamed's death.
Security forces interfered when Muslim and Christians faced off and started firing guns and throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at one another.
According to the Ahram Arabic website, there was also a reported failed attempt to set the Mary Girgis Church on fire before security forces used tear gas to disperse angry crowds.
There were also reports that 120 Christian families were forced to leave Dahshur in the aftermath of the clashes.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi has ordered authorities to punish the culprits of recent sectarian clashes in the town of Dahshur, Giza "to the full extent of the law," Morsi spokesman Yasser Ali said Thursday.
"President Morsi closely monitored the Dahshur incident yesterday and today," Ali said. "His Excellency has ordered the relevant authorities to strictly implement the law and not allow anyone to violate it."
"He stressed that warm relations between Egyptian citizens, Muslims and Christians, should remain intact," the presidential spokesman added. "He also underscored that he would never allow anyone to attack public or private property or terrorise any Egyptian citizen."
The Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate in Abbasiya, Cairo, has since called on authorities to deal firmly with the issue, saying this was the only way to stop the ongoing "wave of violence against Egypt's Copts."
"We saw that the authorities were not dealing with the situation with the firmness required for such cases," the Patriarchate declared in a Thursday statement.
"The authorities must quickly bring the perpetrators to justice and allow the Copts to return to their homes," the Patriarchate added. "The authorities should also financially compensate all those who were harmed in the incident."
On Thursday, the Shura Council – the upper, consultative house of Egypt's parliament – set up an eight-member committee tasked with reconciling Dahshur's Muslim and Christian communities in a bid to pre-empt further violence.
"This isn't a fact-finding committee, it's a reconciliation committee," Shura Council head Ahmed Fahmi was quoted as saying by Al-Ahram’s Arabic-language news website. "Our aim is to achieve reconciliation between the two sides rather than determining who the culprits were."
Major sectarian clashes previously erupted in Egypt in May 2011.
At least twelve people were killed and 186 injured in the Imbaba district, Giza, in fights between Muslims and Copts, due to a controversy over allegations made by some Salafists that a Christian woman had been abducted by the Coptic Orthodox Church and held against her will after she had converted to Isl0am. Those reports were refuted by the woman later.
Meanwhile, forced migration of Copts has been periodically reported over the past two years following various sectarian clashes. The most recent example of the forced migration of Copts to have taken place in January of this year in the town of Ameriya in Alexandria.
Best known for its ancient pyramids, Dahshur, a religiously mixed town, is located in Giza, roughly 40 kilometres south of Cairo. It contains Egypt's famous Bent Pyramid and Red Pyramid, both of which were built during the reign of Pharaoh Sneferu.