Human Rights Watch is calling on the Egyptian government to protect Coptic Christians who are living in fear for their lives after many churches and Christian properties were torched and looted across Egypt by members of the Muslim Brotherhood on August 14, 2013. Four people were killed during the attacks and many were injured.
Human Rights Watch is asking Egyptian authorities to investigate why security forces either were not present during the attacks or failed to intervene, even though that officials knew that the attacks would occur beforehand. One witness estimated that approximately 80 churches in his area received anonymous cell phone calls the week before August 14, warning them about the impending attacks.
The problems began with some members of the Muslim Brotherhood blaming Coptic Christians for playing a role in the ousting of former President Mohammad Morsy, who was declared "unseated" by several government officials on July 3, 2013.
Muslim Brotherhood members staged sit-in protests in Cairo on August 14, 2013, where one of the speakers insinuated that there was a link between the Copts and the removal of Morsy. Right after the sit-ins were violently dispersed by law enforcement, groups of men attacked, damaged or burned at least 42 churches in the area, as well as dozens of Christian religious institutions in the governorates of Asyut, Bani Suef, Fayum, Giza, Minya, Suez, Sohag, and North Sinai.
“For weeks, everyone could see these attacks coming, with Muslim Brotherhood members accusing Coptic Christians of a role in Mohammad Morsy’s ouster, but the authorities did little or nothing to prevent them,” said Joe Stork, acting Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Now dozens of churches are smoldering ruins, and Christians throughout the country are hiding in their homes, afraid for their very lives.”
A Human Rights Watch investigation of 42 cases revealed that at the start or during the attacks, the military or police were not present in spite of Christians making multiple calls for protection. In other cases, help such as one armored personal carrier arrived a day after an attack.
Some Muslim Brotherhood leaders have condemned the violence. “Pursuant to our party’s indivisible principles, we strongly condemn any attack, even verbal, against Copts, their churches or their property,” Dr. Mourad Ali, spokesman of the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, said in a statement.
“While a few Muslim Brotherhood leaders have condemned these attacks, they also need to tell the group’s followers to stop inciting violence by insinuating that the Coptic minority is responsible for the crackdown,” Stork said.
Matt Philbin, the managing editor of the MRC TV's Culture and Media Institute, said in a blog that there were between 60 to 80 attacks by thousands of Egyptian men on churches, church schools and convents, and many Christian homes and businesses. Philbin blasted the media, who he says have not provided adequate news coverage to raise public awareness about the attacks.