(Photo: Reuters / Mohamed Abd El-Ghany)
After violent clashes in Cairo that left at least four Christians dead and churches ablaze, a human rights organization is warning of a “grave future” for Egypt’s Christians unless the government takes immediate action.
International Christian Concern’s regional manager for the Middle East, Aidan Clay, warned that Islamic militants are becoming bolder “because the law is not being applied and criminals are not being brought to justice.”
“While the majority of Egyptian Christians participated in the revolution, they were uncertain what the future held,” he said.
“That uncertainty has turned to fear as Islamic militants have taken advantage of newfound freedoms by imposing a radical agenda and attacking anything they view contrary to their Islamic doctrine.”
The death toll from last weekend’s violence, in which two churches were set on fire by Muslims, has risen to 15.
Egypt’s National Council for Human Rights said in a report on Wednesday that the violence was partly to be blamed on “the intensification of extremist religious interpretations that propose rearranging Egyptian society to exclude Christians.”
Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic human rights activist, said there was “no doubt” that the Muslim Brotherhood and conservative Salafi Muslims were allying with one another.
“The Brotherhood plays politics and the Salafis are causing chaos so they can empty Egypt of Christians and make it an Islamic state,” he said. “Lots of Egyptian people, including moderate Muslims, are worried. If Egypt becomes an Islamic state, it may mean civil war."
He continued: “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.”
Egypt’s caretaker government has promised to deal with the perpetrators with an “iron hand,” with around 190 arrested during clashes to stand trial in the military court.
It also announced on Wednesday that it plans to bring in a new law in the next month that will make it easier for Christians to build churches and ban demonstrations and gatherings outside places of worship.
Until now, Christians have had to go through a lengthy and complicated application process before receiving approval to build churches.
The government also plans to impose a ban on religious slogans in the run-up to the country’s first parliamentary elections since the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak. The elections will take place in September.
Clay urged the government to hold the instigators of violence to account and protect religious minorities.
“While Egypt is experiencing a period of unprecedented transition, success hinges on the full respect for the rule of law," he said. "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," he stressed.
“If immediate action is not taken, a grave future lies ahead for Egypt’s Christians.”