Coptic Christians are the largest religious minority in Egypt. As the country descends into further chaos they are suffering an enormous rise in vicious sectarian attacks, fuelled by incitement from fringe Islamist leaders. The state is failing to protect Christian lives and property and hate crimes are going unpunished.

A damning report from Amnesty International documents the events which lead to the sectarian murder of four Coptic Christian men in the Nagah Hassan district of Dab’iya village on July 5th. It brings into serious question the role of the security forces and their willingness to prevent what should have been preventable slaughter. A recent report on sectarian violence from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) highlights numerous attacks against Copts including murder, shootings, kidnap and arson. On July 6th Father Mina Aboud Sharubim was brutally murdered by gunmen in North Sinai. Threatening leaflets have been circulated within that region signed by ‘the Supporters of Sharia in Egypt’ claiming that the Christians had:

declared war on Islam and its people in Egypt and transformed the country of Islam, its seat and secure fortress, into a secular, Crusader beast where the banner of Islam is not raised.

Ishak Ibrahim, EIPR officer for freedom of religion and belief said:

Copts are paying the price of the inflammatory rhetoric against them coming from some Islamist leaders and supporters of the former president, who accuse Coptic spiritual leaders of conspiring to foment army intervention to remove Dr. Morsy. Incendiary speeches indicate that Islamist leaders believe Copts were heavily involved in the anti-Morsy protests”

The Copts have faced many difficulties in recent times. Mubarak was in power at the time of the Nag Hammadi massacre (January 2010) and Alexandria bomb attack (January 2011) which left 20 dead. In both incidents, Christian worshippers were attacked and murdered leaving church services. The security forces killed 26 Copts during the Maspero demonstrations, an act of unbelievable barbarism which seems all too easily repeated and tolerated. This massacre took place in the transitional period between the governments of Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi.

In recent weeks dozens of Christian churches have been attacked. The incitement of hate crimes against the Copts is a very ugly and disturbing dimension to the situation Egypt currently faces. There are those within Islamist circles seeking to exploit the chaos of Morsi’s demise and the disenfranchisement of his Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The popular uprising against Morsi has widespread support across Egyptian society. The Copts must not be left an exposed minority to face vilification and violence at the hands of dispossessed extremists.

Writing at the Coptic Media Centre blog, His Grace Bishop Angaelos makes an impassioned plea:

We continue to pray for Egypt, comprised of her ninety million Egyptians of various religions, beliefs, and outlooks, praying that a much needed peace and wisdom descends upon all.

Let us all hope that in the days and weeks ahead that peace and wisdom does descend upon all of Egypt’s people. I echo calls from Amnesty International that “immediate measures to improve security for Christians and other minorities” should be taken and that there be detailed “investigations [to] examine the role of the security forces in failing to stop the violence…”