The government failed to protect Christians and their property effectively when they were attacked in instances of sectarian violence throughout the country. The government continued to harass Shia and prohibit conversion from Islam. While recognized and unrecognized religious minorities mostly worshiped without harassment, the government generally failed to prevent, investigate, or prosecute crimes targeting members of religious minority groups, which fostered a climate of impunity. The government routinely failed to investigate and prosecute crimes against Christians and other religious minorities.
As required by law, prosecutors investigated dozens of criminal complaints filed by citizens against individuals whose statements or actions were alleged to be blasphemous, denigrating of religion, or insulting to the Prophet Muhammed and other historical religious figures. Some of these cases went to trials, resulting in the convictions of nine people, a departure from Mubarak-era practice whereby such cases were rarely prosecuted. Courts convicted four Muslims and five Christians, including two children under the age of 11, of denigrating religion. Most of these cases were filed against individuals in Upper Egypt, according to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), a human rights NGO. EIPR reported most of these cases targeted regular citizens rather than public figures, a departure from the past two decades. For example, in June the Luxor Misdemeanor Court fined elementary teacher Damiana Abdel Nour, a 23-year-old Copt, EGP 100,000 ($14,400) for denigrating Islam and evangelizing among her students. Three of her students’ parents had filed a complaint against her, accusing her of denigrating Islam and evangelizing among her students during a class on religious life in ancient Egypt. According to EIPR, 10 of her 13 students denied that she had committed either offense. Abdel Nour’s request to appeal the verdict was granted and court proceedings were ongoing at year’s end.
In June the Beba Court of Beni Suef similarly sentenced author Karam Saber, a Muslim, to five years in prison and an EGP 1,000 ($144) fine for denigrating religions in his book Where is God?, which was released in 2011. The prosecution consulted a church in Beni Suef and Al Azhar for their opinion on the book. Both institutions denounced the book saying it contradicted “divine religions” and damaged Egyptian societal values. Eight local NGOs criticized Saber’s trial and conviction, including the prosecution’s reliance on claims by private citizens irrespective of available evidence, the court’s reliance on the opinions of religious organizations to assess literary works, and the impact such convictions had on the freedom of opinion and expression. Saber’s request to appeal the verdict was granted and slated for reconsideration in early 2014.
Authorities arrested Coptic activist Alber Saber Ayad in Cairo in September 2012 for posting an inflammatory and anti-Islamic amateur video on a social media platform and for previous online blog entries that were critical of religion. In December 2012, the Marg Misdemeanor Court sentenced Ayad to three years in prison and a fine of EGP 1,000 ($144) after finding him guilty of defaming Islam. After posting bail, he was released on December 17, 2012, and left the country. Ayad appealed the verdict and his appeal was rejected in January 2013. He remained a fugitive at year’s end.
The Nasr City Misdemeanor Court sentenced Salafist televangelist Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Sheikh Abu Islam, to 11 years’ imprisonment with labor for denigrating Christianity, inciting strife, and disturbing public security. Abu Islam had encouraged a child to urinate on a Bible before tearing and burning it during protests in front of the U.S. embassy in Cairo in September 2012. Upon appeal, the sentence was later reduced to five years’ imprisonment. He was also sentenced to another three years in prison and an EGP 10,000 ($1,440) fine for denigrating Christianity in statements he made on a television program. Abu Islam also appealed the second verdict and his case was adjourned until February 2014.
In April police arrested three family members of a young Coptic man in Al Wasta, Beni Suef, who reportedly married a 21-year-old woman who had converted from Islam to Christianity and then fled the country with her. The man’s elderly parents and cousin were detained on charges of assisting the conversion of the woman to Christianity and coercing her to denigrate Islam. The Prosecutor General ordered their release in early December.
Courts sometimes sentenced Christians to prison terms that exceeded those given to Muslims convicted of the same crimes. In April 2012, a dispute over a speed bump outside the Abu Qurqas residence of Alaa Reda Roshdy, a local Christian politician, led to confrontations between Muslims and Christians resulting in two deaths, at least four injuries, and property damage to a number of Coptic residences and properties. In May 2012, the exceptional Higher State Security Court sentenced each of the 12 Copts involved in the incident to life in prison after finding two of them guilty of premeditated murder and the others guilty of rioting, destruction of property and/or possessing weapons, crimes that ordinarily carry maximum penalties of a few years in prison. The court acquitted all eight Muslim suspects. Then-Prime Minister Hesham Kandil accepted a petition by the Christian defendants’ lawyers, requesting a retrial in December 2012. In the retrial, which concluded in July, the life prison sentences for the 12 Christians were affirmed. The Muslim defendants, however, were each sentenced to 15 years in prison for theft, rioting, and destruction of property. An EIPR statement criticized the court proceedings and verdict, stating the Christian defendants’ lawyers had not been allowed for a second time to present their defenses to the court. Some of the sentences were given in absentia.
In November 2012, the Cairo Criminal Court sentenced in absentia seven Christians to death for their alleged connection to the production of an inflammatory and anti-Islamic amateur video. An eighth suspect, a U.S. citizen, was sentenced in absentia to five years in prison for the misdemeanor crime of demeaning religion. According to local media, the prosecution claimed the suspects used religion to spread extremist ideas with the aim of inciting sectarianism and defaming one of the heavenly religions, and damaging national unity and societal peace. The grand mufti ratified the death sentences in January in a non-binding opinion. All those sentenced are reportedly living outside the country.
The government did not investigate and prosecute any military or police commanders reportedly responsible for ordering or failing to prevent violence against the mostly Coptic demonstrators at the Maspiro radio and television building in Cairo in October 2011 in which 25 persons were killed and over 300 were injured. In September 2012, a military court sentenced three low-ranking soldiers to between two and three years in prison for their involvement in the incident. Two Copts accused of stealing weapons during the Maspiro incident were sentenced to three years in prison in February. One of the Copts was granted an appeal. The retrial commenced in December.
The government continued to sponsor “customary reconciliation sessions” after sectarian attacks and inter-communal violence instead of prosecuting the perpetrators of the crimes. These extrajudicial sessions were usually attended by governorate officials or the Ministry of Interior, along with Christian and Muslim clergymen who represented the conflicting parties. In these sessions, the parties agree to a number of measures to stop the conflict, which may include punishment of the perpetrators by expulsion from the village, compensation for the affected parties, or a penalty clause for the future breaching of any agreement. In most cases, the parties also agree to drop all formal charges and lawsuits. Christians routinely viewed the decisions emanating from these sessions as largely unfair, but were subject to political pressure to participate. In December, following a customary reconciliation session in Minya, the governorate’s Coptic Orthodox Bishop Makarious − in a break from past Church policy − declared the Church no longer would acknowledge reconciliation sessions because they effectively undermined the rule of law and represented a temporary solution to a protracted sectarian problem.
In August the government sponsored reconciliation sessions following sectarian clashes in the village of East Beni Ahmed, which left one Muslim dead, 18 injured, and several Christian-owned houses and businesses looted and destroyed. The clashes reportedly erupted following an argument between a Copt and a Muslim at a cafe in East Beni Ahmed over a pro-army song. Several suspects were arrested and detained pending investigations for murder, attempted murder for the purpose of terrorizing, thuggery, and the possession of unlicensed firearms and ammunition. A week later, the secretary-general of the governorate, members of the Islamist group Al Gamaa Al Islamiya, security officials, and Christian clerics held a widely-publicized reconciliation session. Participants in the session agreed all legal suits filed in relation to the incidents would be dropped and anyone engaging in inciting violence in the future would be expelled from the village. Contrary to the expectations of the Christians in the community, participants did not agree to compensate those affected by the violence. The Coptic Orthodox Church estimated damage to Christian property at roughly EGP 3.4 million ($489,350). The participants also agreed to create an “arbitration committee” to resolve future sectarian conflicts at their inception. Following the reconciliation, 30 claimants dropped cases they had filed against a number of arrested suspects. Similar sessions took place following sectarian violence in the governorate of Beni Suef.
The government failed to pass a law eliminating the discriminatory permit process by which Christians build and repair places of worship. The government promised to consider such a law after both the Imbaba riots in May 2011 and the Maspiro violence in October 2011. The Coptic Orthodox Church and Al Azhar, along with some Protestant churches, reportedly agreed on draft legislation in late October 2011, but the government took no action. During his tenure as president, Mohamed Morsy issued only one decree authorizing the construction of one “apartment-sized” church intended to serve a community of 1,000 Coptic families. Interim government President Mansour issued decrees licensing the construction of three churches, two in August and a third in October. According to church leadership, the building requests for these churches were submitted several years earlier.
In April six Copts and a Muslim died and 22 people were injured in sectarian clashes in Al Khosous, Qalioubiya. During the Christian victims’ funeral, held at St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in the heart of Cairo and attended by thousands of Copts, clashes erupted among mourners, police, and residents near the cathedral, leaving a Copt and a Muslim dead and 89 injured. According to the Ministry of Interior, 16 police officers were also injured. According to EIPR, security forces fired teargas canisters excessively at mourners in front of the cathedral’s gate and deep into the cathedral. Video recordings of the incidents showed police failing to stop assailants from throwing rocks and bottles at the cathedral despite being in plain sight and having armored vehicles nearby. On April 8, then-President Morsy ordered an immediate investigation into the incidents and public announcement of the results. He stated the law would be applied with firmness to the perpetrators. The public prosecutor opened investigations on 21 suspects for rioting, possession of bladed weapons and firearms, and jeopardizing national unity and communal peace. At year’s end, the investigations were ongoing.
There have been no reports of violent anti-Semitic incidents in recent years; however, anti-Semitic sentiments routinely appeared in both government-owned and private media, and the government made few public attempts to distinguish between anti-Semitism and opposition to Israeli policies and practices. In January satirist Bassem Youssef broadcast video clips from 2010 showing then-President Morsy delivering a speech urging Egyptians to “nurse our children and our grandchildren on hatred” for Jews and Zionists. Later in January Morsy told members of a U.S. congressional delegation his remarks had been taken out of context. He also asserted his respect for all religious creeds, saying he drew a distinction between followers of Judaism and Israelis, who he said persistently mistreated Palestinians in the occupied territories. In May then-President Morsy appointed Alaa Abdel-Aziz Minister of Culture. Abdel-Aziz had previously provided input on several chapters of the anti-Semitic “Encyclopedia of Jews, Judaism, and Zionism.”
For the third consecutive year, authorities cancelled the Abu Hassira celebrations scheduled for January, preventing the annual pilgrimage by non-Egyptian Jews, mostly Israelis, to the shrine of 19th-century scholar Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hassira. The government cited security concerns in justifying its decision.
Government and official Islamic institutions used anti-Shia rhetoric. In June then-President Morsy attended a conference organized by Islamist figures and sheikhs dubbed “For the Victory of Syria.” During the conference held in Cairo Stadium and aired live on state-owned television, Salafi preacher Sheikh Mohamed Al Arifi described Shia as “non-believers who must be killed,” according to a report by Human Rights Watch (HRW).
In November the Ministry of Awqaf instructed imams to prohibit Shia commemorations of Ashura (a solemn religious occasion for Shias, commemorating the martyrdom of Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of Prophet Muhammed) in mosques. Minister of Awqaf Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa also called on the Ministry of Interior to prevent such celebrations. Sheikh Usama Al Hadidi, the imam of Al Hussein Mosque (named after Hussein ibn Ali), said he had received instructions from the Ministry of Awqaf to prevent Shia rituals in the mosque and confirmed that none took place. According to members of the Shia community, Shia leaders received threats from Salafis not to hold celebrations, which prompted them not to hold any to avoid potential violence. Amr Abdullah, a Shia activist, was arrested during Ashura outside Al Hussein Mosque following altercations with a group of Salafis. Salafi groups had reportedly been in the vicinity of the mosque to “monitor the Shia presence,” according to EIPR. Abdullah remained in detention at year’s end on charges of denigrating Islam.
Government entities continued to discriminate against Christians in hiring. Christians continued to be under-represented relative to their population in senior government leadership positions, both elected and appointed. Three Christians were elected and 12 appointed to the Shura Council, the acting legislative body during the first half of the year, amounting to fewer than 6 percent of the seats but an improvement over two percent in the Shura Council of 2010. Political parties nominated relatively few Christians to run in elections as candidates. The cabinet headed by former Prime Minister Hesham Kandil included one Christian cabinet minister out of a total of 35. There were few Christians in the upper ranks of the security services and armed forces. The 50-member Constitution Amending Committee, which amended the 2012 constitution from September through December, included four Christian representatives, three of whom were representatives of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant Churches of Egypt.
The government discriminated against religious minorities in public sector hiring and staff appointments to public universities. There were no Christians serving as presidents or deans of the country’s 17 public universities. Of nearly 700 president, dean, or vice dean positions in the country’s public university system, Christians rarely filled more than one or two. Only Muslims could study at Al Azhar University, a publicly funded institution with approximately half a million students. Additionally, the government barred non-Muslims from employment in public university training programs for Arabic language teachers because the curriculum involves study of the Quran.
Following the attacks on a large number of churches after the dispersal of the Islamist sit-ins of Raba’a El Adawiya and Al Nahda Squares in Cairo on August 14, Defense Minister General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi announced the army would rebuild destroyed churches at the expense of the armed forces. In December Coptic Orthodox Bishop Makarious of Minya told local media the rebuilding process had commenced. The Bishop stated the engineering corps of the armed forces had started to rebuild Prince Tadros Shatbi Church in downtown Minya, in addition to a Christian school, as part of the first stage of the restoration effort, which included five churches and a school in four different cities in the governorate of Minya. The restoration process also reportedly began in the governorates of Beni Suef, Fayoum, Sohag, and Assiut. The Orthodox Church estimated the cost of restoring the damaged churches and schools nationwide to be approximately 188 million EGP ($27 million). The armed forces also donated 250,000 EGP ($36,000) for re-stocking 32 mostly Christian-owned pharmacies affected by the attacks.
The representation of Copts in the cabinet improved in the interim government, which had three Christian ministers in a cabinet of 36 ministers, including the important post of Minister of Industry and Trade, versus only one during the Morsy administration.