Human rights activists are growing increasingly concerned about religious persecution in Egypt. A new President assumed power in June 2012. However, religious violence continues, and in some cases has escalated, since. Censorship is also still at large.
Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II gave an “unprecedented condemnation” of the Islamist president on April 9 after two people were killed exiting a funeral service at Coptic St Mark Cathedral. Four Coptic Christians were being remembered at the service, the National Review reported. The four Copts were killed during a clash between Muslims in northern Cairo.
Coptic Christians make up the majority of Christians in Egypt and are an estimated 10 percent of the Egyptian population. Although Christianity is noted as one of the “divine religions” in Egypt’s penal code, Coptic Christians receive the most persecution of any religious group.
A mob of 200 Muslims “hurled fire bombs, live ammunition, tear gas, and rocks” at the Copts as the exited the evening funeral service, the National Review reported. Dozens of Copts were wounded. One Muslim died after “reportedly falling from a ladder, which he had climbed in order to destroy the Cathedral’s security camera.”
Police failed to respond initially. When they arrived, they either did nothing or joined the attacking Muslims. Multiple eyewitnesses reported police firing tear gas at the crowd of Copts. The attack went on for five hours. Pope Tawadros said President Mohamed Morsi promised he would “do everything to protect the St Mark Cathedral” during a previous phone conversation, the National Review reported.
“The church has been a national symbol for 2,000 years,” Tawadros said. “It has not been subjected to anything like this even during the darkest ages.”
Copts of all ages are subject to discrimination and violence. In the last two years, more than 500 Coptic Christian girls, mostly between the ages of 13 and 17 have been abducted and forced to convert to Islam, Voices of the Martyrs reported. These girls are raped, beaten, and forced to marry Islamic men.
Most recently, 13-year-old Girgis was drugged while taking a taxi home from school. She was held captive for nine days. Girgis was forced to wear a niqab and beaten when she refused to convert to Islam during her captivity. She was released when her captors, two Salafis Sheiks and an elderly woman, “became nervous after her family organized large demonstrations,” Voices of the Martyrs reported.
Abducting young Coptic women and forcing them to convert to Islam (often by marrying Muslim men) has been going on for decades, but there has been a dramatic spike since Mubarak was removed from power in 2011.
People opposing the current government are censored, or suffer consequences. Those who speak out against the government or Islam, even in a joking manner, are seen as a criminal. Egypt’s top prosecutor issued an arrest for Bassem Youssef on Monday, April 1 for insulting President Morsi and Islam on his satirical comedy show, El-Bernameg (The Program). El-Bernameg is modeled after the Daily Show and has earned Youssef the nickname, “Egypt’s Jon Stewart.”
The Egyptian courts dropped Youssef’s case Saturday April 6 after they had no interest in the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to ban El-Bernameg and the television station that broadcasts it. El-Bernameg has 30 million viewers.
This is one of many arrests targeting opposition activists, lawyers, and politicians in these last few weeks. There has been an increase in arrests over free speech issues since the Muslim Brotherhood took power last year. “This is the crackdown,” Human Rights Watch director Heba Morayef tells The Guardian.