(Photo: REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis)
President Barack Obama must increase pressure on the Egyptian interim government to protect Christians who have been violently targeted in the past couple of months, urges a letter sent by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on Monday.
"I respectfully urge you to speak out clearly and forcefully about the unprecedented sectarian attacks committed against Christians in Egypt that proliferated at a frenetic pace on August 14 and the immediate days thereafter," wrote USCIRF Chairman Robert P. George.
"It also is vitally important that the Egyptian interim government understands from you that it must promptly and thoroughly investigate violent incidents, prosecute perpetrators to the fullest extent of the law, and provide greater protections for Christians and their places of worship."
While Obama has repeatedly spoken out against the violence in Egypt following the ousting of former President Mohamed Morsi, Coptic Christians have found themselves targeted by Islamic mobs blaming them for taking part in the protests that led to the government change. Muslim Brotherhood-backed attacks on Christians resulted in fatalities, as well as burnt down churches, monasteries, Christian schools and book stores.
Both the Islamic protesters and the interim government have been blamed for using excessive force, which has led to thousands of Egyptians losing their lives, leading to a state of emergency in the African country.
"We were deeply troubled that leaders and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood tolerated or even encouraged incitement against Christians, and that the interim authorities stood by or were slow to react when attacks occurred," George continues.
"The extent and scope of attacks since August 14 have resulted in the sectarian-related killings of at least seven Copts and attacks on more than 130 churches and Christian religious structures, homes, and businesses."
The letter to Obama adds that Morsi's leadership, which began in June 2012, had been marked by sectarian rhetoric targeting religious minorities, including Copts and other Christians, Shi'a, Sufis, and Baha'is. It also says that although Muslim Brotherhood leaders have called for peace in official statements, their supporters who have turned to violence have been tolerated and even encouraged at times.
The USCIRF asks Obama to continue pressing Egypt's interim government to provide greater protection for Christians and other religious minorities.
"Coptic Christians in Egypt – numbering more than eight million people – constitute the largest religious minority community in the region. The United States must act to ensure this ancient religious community is secure both in the present and in the future," George concludes.
A number of other Christian organizations have also called for similar measures. A petition started by the American Center for Law and Justice that has attracted over 88,000 signatures is calling for the U.S. to make sure that any foreign aid sent to Egypt comes with the specific condition that the military does all it can to protect Christians.
"Words are not enough. Yes, the United States – when we speak, it's powerful, but what also makes us powerful is the amount of funding we provide to the world and I think this is one of the opportunities we have to at least give this Muslim majority population and military, which we've had a pretty good relationship with, the opportunity to do the right thing," Jordan Sekulow, ACLJ executive director, told The Christian Post in August.
Persecution watchdog group Open Doors USA has also started a campaign looking to raise $430,000 in emergency aid for Egyptian Christians who continue to suffer at the hands of Islamists.
"The attacks intensified two weeks ago when most of the persecution of Christians (occurred) - they are being blamed by the Muslim Brotherhood for ousting President Morsi," Open Doors USA Media Relations Director Jerry Dykstra added to CP in a separate interview at the end of August.
"We saw Christian killed – they have been targeted by Muslim Brotherhood fanatics, and they've been caught in the middle, as it usually happens in many cases when Christians are minorities in Middle Eastern countries."