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Religious Freedom in Egypt

31 May 2012 – by Maria-Pia Negro

WASHINGTON (CNS) — As Egyptians began voting to replace ousted President Hosni Mubarak, Christian minorities were anxious to see if the next government would end restrictions on religious freedom and attacks on religious minorities that had been on the rise the past couple of years.

Egypt was one of 16 countries that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom singled out for particular concern in its 2012 annual report, released in March. Egypt made the list for the second year in a row.

“Over the past year, the Egyptian transitional government continued to engage in and tolerate systematic, ongoing, and egregious violations of freedom of thought, conscience and religion or belief,” the report said.

Violent sectarian attacks targeted Coptic Orthodox Christians in 2011, it said. About 100 Copts were killed, according to the report, surpassing the death toll of the previous decade. In most of the more than 40 sectarian attacks, the perpetrators were not convicted, the report said.

“This high level of violence and the failure to convict those responsible continued to foster a climate of impunity, making further violence more likely,” the report said.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom reported that the transitional government also failed to prevent the Egyptian media from vilifying religious groups including Coptic Christians, Jews and Baha’is.

That classification as a “country of particular concern” encourages the State Department to take diplomatic and economic actions intended to improve religious freedom in those countries.

The commission members and Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights and Labor Michael Posner have discussed religious violence in Egypt, as well as in China. Posner visited Egypt in April of last year.

The other countries listed for concern this year were Myanmar, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, China, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Tajikistan, Turkey, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Vietnam.

As in Egypt, many of the violations of religious freedom included attacks on religious minority members, it said.

“Across much of the Middle East, Christian communities that have been a presence for nearly 20 centuries have experienced severe declines in population, aggravating their at-risk status in the region,” the report said.

In Nigeria, Muslim-Christian violence resulted in more than 800 deaths, the displacement of 65,000 people and the destruction of churches and Mosques in 2011, it said.

The report cited blasphemy laws in Pakistan and Egypt as creating an environment of chronic violence, especially after the March 2, 2011, assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti.

Bhatti, a Catholic who was Pakistan’s federal minister for minority affairs, was and a longtime religious freedom advocate. China’s Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims also suffered the worst attacks in decades it said.

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Tags: Egypt Egypt's Christians U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom