The other pattern of sectarian violence is directed against Christians as they attempt to conduct their religious rituals. The third pattern constitutes the assault of churches; destroying and burning them, or breaking their crosses. In this respect, the report stresses that the Egyptian law stipulates the ruin or destruction of places of worship is punishable by sentences that may extend to life imprisonment, and that charges may not be dropped in such crimes nor any settlement reached. Yet it is obvious the law is never implemented in case of churches. Add to that the assault against the Coptic homes, property, businesses, fields, or shops—which is usually part and parcel of sectarian violence—and it becomes understandable that Copts feel they are being practically pushed out of this country.
The fourth—and the most bloody—pattern of sectarian violence is the predetermined murder of Copts because of their religious identity. The killers use knives, daggers, or firearms; in some cases modern automatic guns were used. It is appalling that such killings are frequently committed in retaliation to no more than a mere rumour circulated about Copts burning a mosque or a Muslim killed at the hands of a Copt. Sadly, the investigation authorities have so far never bothered to find out about the source of these rumours or about who was responsible for circulating them.
The EIPR study moves on to review the manner in which the government handles such events. The State, it is obvious, has no definite strategy of confronting them, since it persists in denying the existence of any sectarian violence in the first place. One shocking example is a declaration made by Minya governor and printed by the Cairo daily al-Watani al-Youm, the mouthpiece of the ruling National Democratic Party on 24 November 2009, that there had not been a single incident of sectarian violence in Minya. The EIPR review, however, reveals that Minya is by far the governorate with the highest proportion of sectarian violence events in Egypt.
The security apparatus holds sway over the sectarian scene in Egypt, as clearly revealed by the EIPR review, leading to utter failure in confronting the tensions which give birth to sectarian violence. The review describes the security handling of the sectarian issue as flawed, short-sighted, violent and, in most cases, illegal. The purpose is to forcefully impose calm, meaning that the conflicting parties should be made to settle their differences by force—victim and criminal being made equal, or that the victims would face detention and collective punishment.
In some very few cases, the EIPR review says, non-security officials such as governors intervened to resolve sectarian trouble, but their intervention was too weak and ineffectual. Other State institutions appeared to choose to stay away from the sectarian issue as though it was none of their concern. The result was that the public scene lacked any reform attempts of such crucial domains as education, cultural activities, and social affairs; the only player left on the field was the Interior Ministry. When local politicians and MPs did intervene, it was only to support the security officials’ attempts to impose calm without bothering to impose the law by bringing the culprits to justice.
As for the security authorities, they have incessantly employed all legitimate and illegitimate methods to pressure the victims into some cosmetic ‘reconciliation’ with their attackers, relaying a false sense that problems have been contained and matters are back to normal. Any observer, however, knows full well that the fire is yet kindling under the cinders, and an explosion could erupt any minute.
The security authorities, according to the EIPR review, regularly resort to random arrests and illegal detentions, basing on the state of emergency in Egypt, to handle eruptions of sectarian violence. No matter that Copts are usually the victims, the security authorities would catch almost equal numbers of Muslims and Copts, then pressure the Copts into reconciliation with their attackers in exchange for releasing their illegally-held sons.
Among the most cruel tools used by the security authorities against Copts, the EIPR review mentions, is the forced relocation of the Copts away from their home villages which were the scenes of the sectarian violence to which they were victims. Under the pretext of protecting them from further attacks, but in what amounts to an appeasement of the Muslim attackers and a gross injustice by further victimising the Copts, they are forced to leave their homes and livelihoods and relocate elsewhere. Even though such an act is entirely illegal, it is executed on the mere verbal order of some State security officer and is usually final. The Copts feel they are not only being victimised by their attackers, but also by the very authorities that are in charge of protecting them. The end result is that the culprits are never brought to justice; in fact they are tacitly encouraged by the authorities to do similar crimes in the future.
I am not through with the EIPR review, but will go back to more of it next week.