CAIRO: Rights group the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) says that the geographical scope of sectarian violence in Egypt increased between July and September 2008.
EIPR describes these incidents, as well as violations of religious freedom, in the form of interference by security bodies and discrimination on the basis of religious belief, in its third quarterly report on freedom of religion and belief in Egypt, issued Monday.
Eight incidents of violence of a sectarian character are listed in the report, all of which involved clashes between Muslims and Christians.
In Naga Hamadi, Qena, a dispute which broke out after a Muslim man objected to a Christian parking his car in front of the Muslim man’s home escalated into a fight involving a group of Muslims who broke into the Christian man’s house and physically attacked his family.
Eyewitnesses and the victims of the attacks told EIPR researchers that the police had tarried in arriving at the incident – even though the police station is located nearby, and despite the fact that they had notified police as soon as the dispute broke out.
In addition, the victims of the attack say that they were pressured by the police into withdrawing the criminal charges they brought against their assailants: two of the injured Copts were detained in order to pressure the family into signing a reconciliation agreement.
The report adds that police forced the Christian family to hold their daughter’s wedding (scheduled for the day following the attack) despite the fact that they wanted to postpone it.
Security reportedly held two members of the Christian family at the police station in a bid to impose a reconciliation settlement and abandon legal charges. Holding the wedding, one EIPR researcher told Daily News Egypt, was a symptom of that coercion.
Rights groups allege that sectarian tension in Egypt is inflamed by the police response to such incidents, which they say is often slow and inadequate.
The use of “reconciliation sessions in response to such incidents rather than a criminal legal process – even where Christians have suffered physical injury or damage to their property giving rise to a legitimate legal claim – both encourages further acts of violence and leads to a feeling of vulnerability within Egypt’s Coptic community, rights groups say.
On Oct. 8, EIPR reported on a sectarian incident in Samalut, Minya, which left one person dead and four injured.
In its press statement, EIPR urged “officials and church leaders to give due consideration to the rights of the victims and guarantee perpetrators do not escape punishment under the guise of reconciliation.
Interference by state security bodies resulted in three violations listed in the third part of the report.
The report refers to newspaper reports claiming that security bodies in Upper Egypt rejected applications made by the Imams of mosques requesting that they be allowed to hold the e’tekaaf (when worshippers retreat in mosques during Ramadan) and tahaggod prayers (which begin at night and last until dawn).
According to independent daily Al-Dostour, the Imams were told “these are acts which lead to large gatherings of people and transmission of Salafi ideology to them.
Security bodies continued to prevent church custodians from renovating church buildings. The report describes the physical assault by a policeman of two women in the village of Dashasha, Beni Suef, while they were attempting to carry sand into the church in order to repair its water-damaged floor.
Security bodies have prevented the renovation of the church, which was built in 1895, for 11 years, according to church officials.
The report points out that incidents such as this occur despite the fact that under presidential decree 391 issued in 2005, churches may be renovated without prior permission: all that is required is that the church official notify in writing the relevant body in the governorate. Legal developments mentioned in the report include the administrative detention of a Christian youth, Emad Adib Attiya Suleiman, because of his “involvement in a romantic relationship with a Muslim female. The detention order says that the purpose of Suleiman’s detention was to “act as a deterrent.
Under emergency law in force in Egypt since 1981, administrative authorities have the power to detain individuals “who pose a threat to security and public order – a power which activists say is frequently abused in order to circumvent judicial guarantees and detain political opponents of the regime and others without a legitimate reason.
As EIPR points out, the emergency law does not permit the use of administrative detention as a deterrent.
In September the Alexandria Appeals Court awarded custody of 14-year-old twin boys Andrew and Mario to their father, a Christian convert to Islam, in preference to their Christian mother.
This, EIPR says, is despite the fact that reports by psychologists and sociologists presented to the court had stressed the necessity of the boys staying with their mother.
The report’s final section lists reports concerning freedom of religion in Egypt produced by both Egyptian and international bodies during the period covered by the report.
It refers to the US State Department’s 2008 report on religious freedom throughout the world (issued in September) which stated that religious freedom in Egypt “declined between July 2007 and 2008.
Egypt’s Foreign Ministry had issued a press statement repudiating the US report at the time of its release.
According to the extract of the statement included in EIPR’s report, the US report contained “wrong and disorderly data, constituting an interference in matters which concern no-one except the Egyptian government and Egyptian society. It is inappropriate that foreign elements forcibly involve themselves with affairs at the core of internal Egyptian affairs.