New York City – Human Rights First today called on Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to immediately establish a public inquiry into incidents of sectarian violence that have occurred in recent weeks, including yesterday’s clashes around Cairo’s main Coptic Christian cathedral during a funeral of four Christians killed during a confrontation with Muslims in a town outside Cairo on Friday. Human Rights First notes that those implicated in acts of sectarian violence should be prosecuted and member of the security forces who failed in their duties to protect citizens should be held accountable.
“The escalating sectarian violence is a further sign of the deteriorating security situation in Egypt that, in turn, is the product of an intractable political stalemate,” said Human Rights First’s Neil Hicks.
Hicks notes that large numbers of Egyptians question the legitimacy of President Morsi and fear that he is using his narrow victory in last year’s presidential election to secure authoritarian control for the Muslim Brotherhood movement that he represents. While the political struggle between the supporters and opponents of the Brotherhood continues, Egypt is failing to deal with a number of serious challenges, including a rapidly deepening economic crisis and a disturbing lack of security in many parts of the country.
Human Rights First observes that it is alarming that such serious clashes should occur in and around the Coptic cathedral that is the seat of the Pope, Tawadros II. It is especially disturbing that members of the security forces are reported to have stood by and allowed a mob to attack mourners coming out of the cathedral with rocks and firebombs, and even in some cases to have sided with the mob in attacking Christians.
“Sectarian tensions are nothing new in Egypt,” noted Hicks, “They are, however, especially dangerous at this time because of the low level of public trust in the government and apparent incapacity of state institutions to address the nation’s problems.”
In addition to the public inquiry, Human Rights First notes that President Morsi should publicly repudiate those in his party who have sought to blame these incidents on “hidden hands” or “foreign conspiracies.” Egypt has deep-rooted problems of institutionalized discrimination against its Christian minority. A good faith inclusive initiative to remedy these problems represents the only long-term solution that can prevent such violent incidents from recurring.