Words not enough to protect Christians in Egypt

Said Shehata , Tuesday 9 Apr 2013

Sectarian violence shows its ugly face again in Egypt. It is not the first time and will not be the last unless the president and government take serious measures to prevent it

The last few days have witnessed clashes and sectarian violence between Christians and Muslims. These clashes have killed eight people, most of them Christians, and scores have been injured. Birdshot, petrol bombs and stones were used in these incidents.

The two incidents in Khosous, Qalioubiya, north of Cairo, and the subsequent clashes at the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, highlight the plight of Copts in Egypt after the fall of the Mubarak regime.

It should be noted that Copts suffered discrimination during the Mubarak era as well. At the same time, their situation has got worse since the January 25 Revolution of 2011.

This recent tragedy reflects the deep dilemma in Egyptian politics generally, and the tension between Christians and Muslims particularly. It is argued that the absence of security forces and their failure to stop unidentified people using weapons against Copts at the cathedral raises question marks about the role of police in protecting Christians.

There was a weak reaction by security forces and pressure has been mounting on the interior minister to resign. Witnesses told me there was no protection for mourners when they were attacked at the cathedral after prayers for the four dead Christians from Qalyubiya. Police were watching attackers fire birdshots and petrol bombs without arresting them and this impunity might encourage perpetrators of similar actions.

In addition, Copts, in general, do not trust the Islamist president. Mourners chanted against him and the Muslim Brotherhood outside the cathedral. Some told this writer that Morsi talks the talk but does not walk the walk. According to them, words are not enough and actions should be translated into protecting Christians.

Morsi said, "Any attack on the cathedral is an attack on me, personally." He ordered an investigation and talked with Coptic Pope Tawadros II. Some Copts are sceptical about Morsi's statement because there should have been a security presence during the funeral and this did not happen.

Moreover, the sectarian atmosphere has been the norm recently and the absence of political will to change the environment has contributed to the deteriorating situation between Muslims and Christians. For example, two Copts were jailed due to claims they insulted Islam.

At the same time, Sheikh Abou Islam mocked Christianity on his show and in interviews. He also tore the bible in front of the US embassy in Cairo during the 'anti-Islam film' protests. Nothing happened to him. He was arrested and then released on bail. It can be seen that there are double standards when dealing with citizens because of their beliefs. Copts are angry and feel marginalised and discriminated against.

Furthermore, Copts have not been actively involved in high positions in the government since Islamists, mainly members of the Muslim Brotherhood, control most of the positions. There were hopes that marginalisation of Copts would be ended after the revolution, but this has not happened.

Morsi and Islamists do not have the vision to include all Egyptian forces in the political process. It is a mistake that might end in more violence and instability.

Finally, laws must be enforced and justice implemented to send strong signals to anyone who wants to divide Egyptians and cause trouble.

Egypt already suffers from many economic and political problems. If you add the sectarian element, the scene will become even more complex. The president and government must take steps to stop this from happening. There are doubts that these steps will be taken in the foreseeable future.

If Islamists continue to exclude others and use the same tactics as the former regime, similar incidents are likely to occur in future.

Short link: