May 16, 2011
|Egyptian Army soldiers stand guard outside the burned Virgin Mary church in the Imbaba neighborhood of Cairo, Egypt AP|
Egypt’s caretaker government has vowed to step up security outside places of worship after last week’s sectarian violence which left 15 people dead.
Christians in Cairo are picking up the pieces after two churches were set on fire by conservative Salafi Muslims last Saturday.
The government has promised to come down hard on the instigators of the violence. Around 190 people rounded up at the weekend are to stand trial in the military court.
In a statement, the cabinet’s justice committee said that it would “decisively stand against incitement to hatred and sectarianism”.
The committee announced a ban on demonstrations and gatherings outside places of worship, and on religious slogans in the run-up to parliamentary elections in September, the first to be held since President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in the January 25 Revolution.
The cabinet has asked the committee to explore the possibility of “unifying” laws on the construction of worship, signalling an end to the convoluted process Christians must go through to receive permission to build new churches or renovate existing ones.
Bishop Antonios Aziz Mina of Giza said that the police and army had been “frightened” and “slow to act” when violence broke out in the neighbourhood of Imbaba, a western district of Cairo which falls within his diocese.
He told Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need that there would be anarchy unless the authorities hold the perpetrators to account.
“The police need to say clearly to those who have done this: ‘You cannot do this. It is not allowed.’ Without action from the police and army, it will be chaos, complete anarchy.”
He added: “We cannot make peace and reconciliation without first bringing people to justice. Otherwise, the reconciliation is just theatre and the problems will remain.”
In a report on Wednesday, Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights blamed the church attacks on “the intensification of extremist religious interpretations that propose rearranging Egyptian society to exclude Christians”.
Christians fear that Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood want to convert Egypt into an Islamic state where Christians have no place.
Coptic human rights activist Wagih Yacoub said in a report by International Christian Concern: “There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are allied. The Brotherhood plays politics and the Salafis are causing chaos so they can empty Egypt of Christians and make it an Islamic state.
“Lots of Egyptian people, including moderate Muslims, are worried. If Egypt becomes an Islamic state, it may mean civil war.
“We won’t get protection from the military council or the police forces. Our homes will be attacked at any minute, any time.
“Lots of people are scared. How will we protect ourselves? There will be bloodshed.”
ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay, said the uncertainty Christians had felt at the time of the revolution was turning into fear.
He said Islamic militants were taking advantage of newfound freedoms by “imposing a radical agenda and attacking anything they view contrary to Islamic doctrine”.
“They are becoming bolder because the law is not being applied and criminals are not being brought to justice,” he said.
“While Egypt is experiencing a period of unprecedented transition, success hinges on the full respect for the rule of law.
“However, the government is not stepping in and mob rule is controlling the streets. We urge the transitional government to reform Egypt’s repressive laws and policies related to religious freedom before the September elections and to enhance security for religious minorities.
“If immediate action is not taken, a grave future lies ahead for Egypt’s Christians.”