A new report from Human Rights Watch has revealed the extremity of the bloodshed against Egypt's Coptic Christians. Since Aug. 14, 37 churches have been either destroyed or badly damaged, and at least five others were attacked, leaving at least four people dead. In addition, scores of Christian businesses and schools have been looted, vandalized and torched.
But the egregiousness nature of these actions is only matched by the lack of response by Egyptian authorities themselves, said Joe Stork, the acting Human Rights Watch Middle East Director.
"For weeks, everyone could see these attacks coming, with Muslim Brotherhood members accusing Coptic Christians of a role in Mohammad Morsy's ouster, but the authorities did little or nothing to prevent them. Now dozens of churches are smoldering ruins, and Christians throughout the country are hiding in their homes, afraid for their very lives," said Joe Stork in a statement.
Tamara Alrifai, the Human Rights Watch Advocacy and Communications director for the Middle East and North Africa Division, explained that before last week's confrontation between the military and pro-Morsi supporters, there were signs that the Copts would be targeted.
"Over the past few weeks there has been an incitement discourse against Christians from political leadership and there have not been enough measures taken by police and security," Alfirai told The Christian Post. "The attacks seemed inevitable. The government is responsible for protecting its own population when the signs are clear."
In some instances, the threats that the Copts' aggressors utilized were blatant; in the city of Minya, residents told Human Rights Watch that Coptic-owned storefronts had been marked with a black "X" and they were subsequently targeted for attack.
Indeed, Human Rights Watch asserted that "in the vast majority of the 42 cases [we] documented, neither the police nor the military were present at the start or during the attack," suggesting that the passivity of the security forces served to embolden and encourage acts of terror.
In many instances, individuals notified security officials, only for them to be dismissed. In one situation, a resident begged a police officer to help him defend his business, only for the officer to refuse to leave, saying he was only charged with protecting his station.
John Sameer of Minya told Human Rights Watch he witnessed a crowd vandalizing and burning a church before following a gang of men who performed the same on "approximately 20 shops, three other churches, the Coptic boys' school complex, the Saint Joseph's girls' school, the Gunud al-Maseeh orphanage, and the Jesuit community center."
Despite calls for to emergency vehicles, Sameer said that security never arrived.
However, Human Rights Watch also documented some episodes of violence against security forces in the same towns that Copts were attacked.
In Minya, the same town that Sameer watched gangs torch businesses, schools and churches, Major General Abdelaziz Qura, head of the Minya security directorate, told Human Rights Watch that on Aug. 14, when news of the sit-in dispersal reached the city, "groups simultaneously attacked police stations and some churches in Minya. They were shooting live fire at security forces, and the security forces did not leave their positions because they didn't want anyone to free the prisoners [held in police stations], like what happened in January 2011."
The group also burned six police stations to the ground and killed 13 police officers.
Human Rights Watch hopes that their documentation motivates the international community to pressure Egyptian authorities to clamp down on the violence against the Copts.
"The international community does have a responsibility to curb violence altogether [but] there must also be a strong message against incitement to violence and hatred of the others," said Alrifai. "The Copts are part and parcel of Egyptian society. They should be treated as equal citizens under law, equal to everyone else. They belong to Egypt as every other Egyptian and there should not be a way forward in Egypt without them."