Cairo clashes (file)
Cairo clashes (file) AFP photo

Reoccurring assaults of sectarian violence prompted 16 Egyptian rights organizations to issue a statement criticizing the government and Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies. Sectarian crimes targeting Christian citizens have escalated since the ousting of President Mohamed Morsi.

The NGOs urged security officials for higher protection and intervention during future clashes between Islamist groups targeting Christian civilians.

In a recent case, in the village of Minya's Beni-Ahmed, sectarian violence broke out last Saturday as many Christian-owned properties were destroyed and homes were torched.

The statement emphasized "the negligence of the security forces which only intervened two hours after the clashes erupted," saying that despite their securing of the town's church, they neglected to prevent attacks on private property.

NGOs called upon the state to carry out investigation of incidents of sectarian violence and to prosecute the perpetrators impartially.

They also insisted that Islamist groups should reject violence, prohibit the incitement of religious hatred and condemn those who partake in these crimes.

The statement blames state institutions for their lack in providing the necessary protection to Christian citizens, criticizing them for not "decisively confronting the sectarian attacks or enforcing the law by holding those responsible for violence to account." 

Coptic Christians are an indigenous community which makes up around 10% of Egypt's population, and which has long complained of systematic discrimination and violent attacks by the authorities and Islamist terrorists respectively. The Coptic leader, Pope Tawadros II, was fiercely criticized by the Muslim Brotherhood after coming out in support of the military's decision to oust President Mohammed Morsi. 

Tawadros's comments marked a significant departure from his predecessor, who maintained a low profile in political matters, primarily out of fear that the Christian community would be targeted by either Islamists or the authorities.

Coptic groups fear that their community is being scapegoated by Islamists bitter at Morsi's removal by the secular military establishment.

Last week, Al Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri directly blamed Egyptian Copts for Morsi's ouster, claiming they wanted to use it as an opportunity to establish an independent "Coptic state."

The attacks compound growing concerns over the plight of the Middle East's various Christian sects, as communities from Iran, Iraq, Syria and elsewhere face mounting threats from Islamists both in government and the opposition. A report last year by Civitas, a British think-tank, warned that Christianity in the Middle East was facing "extinction" due to mounting attacks and persecution.

Today, Israel is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population.