USCIRF Letter to President Obama on Unprecedented Sectarian Attacks Committed Against Christians in Egypt

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 16, 2013| By USCIRF
USCIRF Letter to President Obama on
Unprecedented Sectarian Attacks Committed Against Christians in Egypt
 
The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) sent the following letter to President Obama on September 12, 2013:
 
The President
The White House
Washington, DC 20500
 
Dear Mr. President:
 
On behalf of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), 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. 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.
 
Since the Egyptian military and security forces dispersed protestors at two separate locations on August 14, more than 1,000 Egyptians have been killed, including at least 100 police and security forces. The Egyptian interim government's excessive use of force when breaking up protests, the high number of deaths, and the return to a state of emergency are profoundly troubling. Almost simultaneously, a coordinated series of attacks on churches throughout the country were instigated by extremists. 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.
 
While USCIRF recognizes the grave issues at stake related to democracy, rule of law, and human rights in Egypt, the Commission is concerned particularly about the ongoing threats and violence targeted at religious minority communities, particularly Coptic and other Christians and their property. 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.
 
After former president Mohamed Morsi assumed office in June 2012, there was a noticeable increase in vitriolic, sectarian rhetoric targeted at religious minorities, particularly Copts and other Christians, as well as Shi'a, Sufis, and Baha'is. Following President Morsi's ouster from office on July 3, there was an increase in violent attacks, which accelerated even more dramatically after the August 14 dispersals. Again, incitement against Christians was tolerated or even encouraged by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and their belated attempts to condemn the violence and calm tensions have been inadequate. In addition, the military and interim government has failed to take adequate measures to protect the rights of those at risk.
 
USCIRF repeatedly has cautioned that religious minorities, particularly Copts, are among the most vulnerable to extremist and scapegoat attacks during the democratic transition. For years, USCIRF has faulted the Egyptian government for allowing sectarian violence to occur with impunity. Past large-scale attacks on Christians that resulted in the deaths of dozens and injuries to hundreds - such as in Maspero in October 2011, Imbaba in May 2011, and Alexandria in January 2011 - remain unpunished. In fact, the absence of prosecutions from past sectarian incidents targeting Copts has fostered a climate of impunity that encourages future attacks.
 
Mr. President, while USCIRF welcomed your August 15 statement condemning attacks on churches and calling for the rights of religious minorities to be respected, we urge you and your Administration to take additional action. In concert with the European Union and other allies, we hope you will press the interim Egyptian government to provide greater protections for Copts and other religious minorities and their places of worship and actively advocate for justice and accountability for the violence committed against them.
 
In its annual report last spring, the Commission recommended that your Administration designate Egypt as a "country of particular concern” for engaging in and tolerating severe, ongoing, and systematic violations of religious freedom. That recommendation reflects our deep concern about ongoing violations of religious freedom, and the Commission will continue to monitor closely actions by the interim government.
 
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.
 
We thank you for consideration of our views and recommendations and stand ready to assist in any way.
 
Sincerely,
 
Chairman
 
To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, please contact USCIRF at (202) 523-3258
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