Police in Egypt recently arrested five Coptic Christian children after angry Muslim mobs accused them of blasphemy for being featured in a circulated prayer video with their Coptic teacher that showed them making fun of the Islamic State terrorist organization.
In a report published Tuesday by Fox News on how Christians have become the target of Muslim extremists in the Minya Governorate in northern Egypt, it was reported that Muslim mobs in the village of Nasreya in Minya gathered around the residences of five Christian students and chanted that they had "insulted" Islam.
The angry Muslims claimed that the students and their Coptic teacher were guilty of blasphemy, which is a crime in Egypt, because their video mocked ISIS, a barbaric Islamic terrorist group that has claimed chunks of territory in Iraq and Syria and also has affiliate groups located in Egypt and Libya.
As the teacher was arrested and questioned by police over a four-day period, the mobs threw rocks at the homes of the students and demanded that their parents turn over the children to the local policing authority.
Mina Thabet, a Coptic activist, said that the children and teacher still remain in police detention, as well as other Christians who been victimized by Muslim attacks and accusations.
"We have five Coptic Christian children charged with blasphemy and insulting Islam," Thabet explained. "We still have other open cases where Christians are charged with inciting violence as if they were the perpetrators, but where they were [actually] the victims."
Todd Daniels, the Middle East regional manager for International Christian Concern, told The Christian Post on Wednesday that due to the corrupt nature of Egypt's judicial system, the children could be sentenced to overly-long prison sentences.
"The case of the five arrested in Minya and charged with blasphemy represents yet another case of how Egypt continues to bend to the weight of extremist ideology," Daniels wrote in an email. "A video - not even shared publicly - that mocked ISIS, a group that openly beheaded twenty Egyptian citizens, has already put these five in prison and may lead to lengthy prison sentences. Despite progress in terms of rhetoric from [Egyptian] President [Abdel Fattah el-Sisi], Egypt has pervasive persecution that continues to occur not only on the societal level but also in the judiciary."
Daniels added that on Tuesday, a Christian man in Egypt was sentenced to one year in prison for blasphemy, after sharing a video on Facebook of two Islamic scholars debating points of Islam.
Although Sisi called for a reformation of the country's persecutory Muslim extremist mindset in a speech given at the most prestigious Islamic learning center in the world, the 1000-year-old Al-Azhar University, the country's blasphemy law has remained intact, giving Muslims the ability to use the law to persecute religious minorities and assert their dominance.
"While Sisi has done things that are commendable in terms of trying to clamp down on extremism and talk openly or more openly about the extremism problem, on the other hand, we see just a sort of larger clamping down on what is deemed acceptable religious discourse," Oren Kessler, deputy director of research at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told CP. "That often includes a certain overzealousness when it comes to enforcing what Christians are allowed to say about Islam, or even persecuting Christians who have said nothing about Islam simply as a government show of force."
The Minya Governorate, which was home to the 21 Coptic Christians who were beheaded by ISIS in February, has hosted other Muslim attacks against the Coptic Christian community. In April, Coptic Christians who were looking to build a church honoring the fallen 21 Coptic martyrs in the village of al-Our were attacked by a Muslim mob that opposed the building of such a church. A week later, a muslim mob protested the construction of a new governor-approved church in the village of El-Galaa.
Although Kessler said he doesn't believe the Egyptian government is complicit in attacks against the Christian community, the government has done little to protect the Christian population.
"What I tend to see are generally cases of neglect. There have even been cases in which the police knew about plans to attack churches and did nothing," Kessler said. "We here a lot of nice rhetoric from President Sisi about confronting religious extremism, and President Sisi went into the Coptic Christian cathedral on Christmas to wish them a merry Christmas, but there has been very little in way of action in terms of protecting the Copts."
Even though Sisi has called for a peaceful reformation of Islam, the only real action that his regime has taken in that regard has been providing schools with new textbooks and curricula, which Kessler says is a good place to start.
"Even the public school system has a lot of problems with its curricula in terms of how it portrays Christians and Jews and how it portrays Islam as the necessary dominant religion in the country," Kessler said. "I think some textbooks were changed. There were changes to the curriculum. Beyond that, we have seen mostly rhetoric, not that rhetoric is unimportant because it does help create and environment of tolerance, but rhetoric needs to be matched with action and we haven't seen a whole lot of action beyond these changes to the curriculum."