BRUSSELS: The US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) accused Egypt of "widespread discrimination" against its Christian and other religious minorities in its annual report for 2010 released on Monday, which also highlights repression of political dissent.
"Although Egypt’s constitution provides for equal rights without regard to religion, there is widespread discrimination against Egyptian Christians, as well as official intolerance of heterodox Muslim sects," HRW said.
Egypt’s Christians, who make up around 10 percent of the 80-million population, complain of systematic discrimination and exclusion from high-level public posts.
Coptic Christians have been the target of several attacks and say the government has failed to acknowledge and deal with the country’s sectarian problem.
On New Year’s day, more than 20 people were killed in an attack on a church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, one year after six Copts and a Muslim policeman were gunned down in a Christmas attack.
Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak has fiercely rejected Western calls for the protection of Egypt’s Christian minority as an interference in domestic affairs.
"I say to those, some from friendly countries, who call for the protection of Copts of Egypt, I say to them that the time for foreign protection and tutelage is gone, and will not return.
"We will not accept any pressure or interference in Egypt’s affairs," he said in a speech on Sunday to mark Police Day.
HRW’s report also highlighted Egyptian security heavy-handedness.
"Egypt continued to suppress political dissent in 2010, dispersing demonstrations; harassing rights activists; and detaining journalists, bloggers and Muslim Brotherhood members," the group said.
Cairo has repeatedly been criticized for failing to lift its decades-old emergency law which gives police wide powers of arrest, suspends constitutional rights and curbs non-governmental political activity.
"The government continues to refuse to disclose the number of persons detained under the emergency law, but Egyptian human rights organizations estimate the number at around 5,000," HRW said.
Egypt’s treatment of refugees and migrants "deteriorated further" in 2010, according to the report, highlighting the use of lethal force against migrants attempting to cross into Israel. An Egyptian security official said over 30 migrants had been killed on the border in 2010.
The Israel-Egypt border has become a major transit route for economic migrants, asylum-seekers and drug smugglers, and Israel has urged Egypt to clamp down on the traffic.