Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Will religious violence tear Egypt apart?

Will religious violence tear Egypt apart?

Clashes between conservative Muslims and Coptic Christians are becoming one of the biggest threats to national unity in post-Mubarak Egypt
posted on May 9, 2011, at 12:34 PM

Best Opinion: LA Times, Guardian, Al Jazeera

Sectarian violence between Egyptian Muslims and Christians intensified over the weekend, triggering an emergency meeting of government ministers. The new government threatened to use an "iron fist" to stop the clashes between the Muslim majority and Coptic Christian minority, which have been on the rise since former President Hosni Mubarak's regime fell three months ago. Twelve people were killed Saturday in fighting outside a Cairo church, where Muslims believed a Christian woman was being held against her will because she wanted to convert to Islam. Will religious differences dash hopes of peaceful democracy in Egypt?

Yes, sectarian tensions could destroy the revolution: "Copts felt secure under Mubarak, who tightened his grip over Islamists," says Amro Hassan in the Los Angeles Times. Now radical Salafi Muslims are on a rampage, and they have burned down two Coptic churches since Mubarak fell. The interim military-led government has been preoccupied with economic and political problems, and now the unchecked religious feud is spinning out of control.
"Egypt: Religious conflict becomes the revolution’s biggest enemy"

The Copts' future is in their own hands: Coptic Christians "understandably feel threatened by the surge of Islamism in Egypt," says Amira Nowaira in The Guardian. They survived under Mubarak by staying on the sidelines, but they can't afford to do that now that he's gone. They need to join political parties and get involved in the new political world — as citizens, not Christians — because "their active participation, along with secularists, liberals and women, will be the most powerful safeguard against any deviation or extremism."
"The role Copts should play in post-Mubarak Egypt"

Beware an emboldened military: The fear of a takeover by radical Muslims has probably been exaggerated, says Mark LeVine at Al Jazeera. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has clout at the ballot box, is considerably more moderate than the ultraconservative Salafist sect that has been attacking Coptic Christians. But the chaos "could easily derail the messy process of political change" set in motion by the pro-democracy protests, because it's "giving the army an excuse to crack down hard on all forms of dissent and protest."
"Chaos and counter-revolution"

Churches burn in Egypt violence

Mobs set two churches on fire in western Cairo on Sunday as clashes broke out between Muslims and Christians, killing up to 12 people and injuring more than 200. May 8, 2011



Monday, May 9, 2011

Clashes in Cairo Leave 12 Dead and 2 Churches in Flames

A prayer service was held at the Virgin Mary church in Cairo on Sunday May 8, 2011, one of two churches set on fire during clashes between Christians and Muslims on Saturday night.
Published: May 8, 2011

CAIRO — A night of street fighting between Muslims and Christians left at least 12 people dead and two churches in flames on Sunday in the latest outbreak of sectarian tensions since the revolution that ousted former President Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11.

Long suppressed sectarian animosities have burst out with increasing frequency since the rebellion removed the heavy hand of the Mubarak police state, threatening the recovery of Egypt’s tourist economy and the stability of its hoped-for transition to democracy. Officials of the Interior Ministry said at least six Christians and at least five Muslims died and about 220 people were wounded, including 65 who were struck by bullets.

The Egyptian authorities vowed a swift response, announcing military trials for 190 people arrested in the violence, along with stepped up security at houses of worship and tougher laws against attacking religious institutions. Prime Minister Essam Sharaf, serving in an interim role under the military council governing the country, canceled a trip to the Persian Gulf states to preside over an emergency cabinet meeting, and Egypt’s most respected Muslim religious authority, the sheikh of Al-Azhar, denounced the violence.

An overwhelming force of hundreds of heavily armed soldiers and riot police officers occupied the Cairo neighborhood where the clashes took place, evidently deployed prevent renewed violence and blocking off access to the church at the center of the battle. Garbage fires set in the streets during the clashes still burned in the area nearby, in a tangle of narrow and often-filthy alleys called Imbaba.

Members of Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority, who make up about 10 percent of the national population, have lived side by side with Muslims in the area for decades, even though the neighborhood is also known for its affinity for militant Islamic politics.

Witnesses and other residents said that no organized group appeared to have led the weekend’s clashes. Some Christians in the neighborhood said they had seen a vanguard of bearded Salafis — adherents of an ascetic form of Muslim fundamentalism that is increasingly used as a catch-all term to describe Islamist militancy. But people on both sides said that the fighting pitted one group of young men from the neighborhood against another, along tribal rather than ideological lines.

Like many recent episodes of Muslim-Christian violence here, the strife began over rumors of an interfaith marriage. Muslims in the neighborhood said a former Christian had left the church and married a Muslim. They said they had heard that she had been abducted and detained inside the Church of St. Mina against her will, reflecting a pattern of accusations that has recurred in several recent episodes of sectarian conflict.

Christians in the neighborhood said that the story was a fiction, that there was no such woman in the church.

Both Muslims and Christians involved in the fighting said that early Saturday evening a relatively small group of Muslims had approached the St. Mina church to ask about the purported abduction. Two young Christian men said they had heard reports that a group of Salafis were headed toward the church, so they had quickly gathered along with a group of as many as 400 or 500 to defend it. At about 6:00 p.m., one man said, their large group of hundreds of Christians faced a Muslim group of only 20.

But within about an hour, a similarly large group of young Muslim men gathered in opposition. By 8 p.m., shots had been fired from a rooftop or balcony. The security forces soon arrived and fired tear gas to break up the melee. But clashes involving clubs, knives, bricks, Molotov cocktails and occasional gunshots continued until at least 4 a.m., exacerbated by an electrical blackout.

Muslims set fire to the Church of St. Mena and, later, to the nearby Church of the Virgin Mary as well.

The sectarian clashes follow a period of vocal interfaith solidarity around the time of the revolution in January and early February, when Christians and Muslims demonstrated together in Tahrir Square in central Cairo — with members of each group standing guard while the other group prayed. They vowed to work together for a new Egypt.

But the transitional government has failed to convincingly rebuild and redeploy the police force after it was decimated by desertions during the revolution. And sectarian strife had been a problem even before the rebellion.

A lightning rod at the center of much of the discord has been the case of Camilla Shehata, which also involved accusations of interfaith marriage and abduction. Ms. Shehata is the wife of a Coptic Christian priest. Some Muslims contend that she left him for a Muslim, only to be kidnapped by her husband and members of the Coptic Church.

In retaliation for her purported abduction, Islamist militants carried out a church bombing as far away as Iraq and threatened churches in Egypt as well. The anger over the case may have played a role in an explosion at a church in Alexandria on New Year’s Day that killed more than 20 Copts.

As recently as Friday there were rival demonstrations over her case that involved a few hundred Muslims and a few hundred Copts in the Cairo neighborhood that contains the Coptic Cathedral and one of the city’s biggest mosques. Muslims have often insisted that Ms. Shehata should appear on television to lay to rest the allegations that she had converted to Islam and then been abducted against her will.

On Saturday, Ms. Shehata appeared to do just that, appearing with her husband on a satellite television network owned by a prominent Christian businessman here, attesting to her Christianity and urging Egyptians to move on.

It was unclear if the broadcast had any influence on the violence Saturday night.

In March, Muslims and Christians fought in the town of Helwan near Cairo. Thirteen people were killed and a church was burned down. In that instance, the spark was a rumored romance between a Muslim woman and a Christian man.






H.H. Pope Shenouda Sermon - Forgive

H.H. Pope Shenouda Sermon - Forgive


Sunday, May 8, 2011

USCIRF Identifies World's Worst Religious Freedom Violators

4/28/2011: USCIRF Identifies World's Worst Religious Freedom Violators: Egypt Cited for First Time
April 28, 2011

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) today released its 2011 Annual Report and recommended that the Secretary of State name the following nations “countries of particular concern” or CPCs: Burma, China, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, and Vietnam.

For the first time, USCIRF recommended that Egypt be designated a CPC.

“CPCs are nations whose conduct marks them as the world’s worst religious freedom violators and human rights abusers," said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo. “In the case of Egypt, instances of severe religious freedom violations engaged in or tolerated by the government have increased dramatically since the release of last year’s report, with violence, including murder, escalating against Coptic Christians and other religious minorities. Since President Mubarak’s resignation from office in February, such violence continues unabated without the government’s bringing the perpetrators to justice. Consequently, USCIRF recommends CPC designation for Egypt.”

The 1998 International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) requires that the United States designate annually as CPCs countries whose governments have engaged in or tolerated systematic and egregious violations of the universal right to freedom of religion or belief. USCIRF’s Annual Report assesses conditions in these and other nations and provides policy prescriptions tailored to each CPC.

“The Obama administration continues to rely on the prior administration’s designations but hopefully will make new designations and apply meaningful actions very soon in order to underscore America’s resolve in bolstering the freedom of religion or belief around the world,” said Mr. Leo. “We also urge the newly confirmed Ambassador-at-Large for Religious Freedom to encourage relevant follow-up actions to protect religious freedom where it is most threatened.”

USCIRF also announced that the following countries are on its 2011 Watch List: Afghanistan, Belarus, Cuba, India, Indonesia, Laos, Russia, Somalia, Tajikistan, Turkey, and Venezuela. While not rising to the statutory level set forth in IRFA requiring CPC designation, Watch List countries require close monitoring due to the nature and extent of religious freedom violations engaged in or tolerated by their governments.

“Within the ranks of both CPCs and Watch List countries, impunity has become a matter of escalating alarm,” said Mr. Leo. “A number of countries are idly standing by in the face of violent attacks against religious minorities and even dissenting members of majority faiths, and this imperils religious freedom much the same way that direct state-sponsored repression does. This year’s Annual Report spotlights the problem and advances concrete solutions that will improve religious freedom while weaving it more tightly into the fabric of national security and U.S. foreign policy.”

USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF Commissioners are appointed by the President and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF’s principal responsibilities are to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the President, the Secretary of State and Congress.

To interview a USCIRF Commissioner, contact Tom Carter, Communications Director at tcarter@uscirf.gov or (202) 523-3257.


2011 Annual Report


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