Twelve human rights organizations under the umbrella of the Forum for Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations strongly condemn the bombings which took place on New Year's day targeting worshippers leaving Saints Church in Alexandria after New Year's church service. The bombings killed 22 and injured at least 97 others according to official figures. Until the writing of this press release no group has claimed responsibility for this crime.
Forum organizations denounce this terrible massacre which ushered in the new year for the Egyptian people, and urge for this crime to be an opportunity for the government to adopt a new policy in confronting violence and dealing with the sectarian issue. Such a policy must be based on principles of equality and non-discrimination among citizens on the basis of religion or belief.
The groups also strongly condemn the use of violence by security forces when confronting protestors in Alexandria and Cairo who wanted to peacefully express their rejection of the crime on New Year. Forum organizations are calling on the Public Prosecutor to quickly bring the perpetrators to justice, and that investigations into the crime include the negligence by security forces to preempt and prevent the crime. This is especially pertinent in light of threats which were received at the beginning of November 2010 against Egyptian churches.
The Forum of Human Rights Organizations asserts that the Alexandria attack is more evidence of the Egyptian government's incorrect claims that it has uprooted terrorism and dried out its strongholds through its brutal security policies, which focused on enforcing the Emergency Law, as well as random and long-term detentions. Starting with the terrorist attacks in the 1990s which targeted Christians, terrorism continued until 2009 when two explosions took place in front of El-Zeitoun Church for Orthodox Copts in the heart of Cairo. As usual, this was followed by a wide-ranging arrest campaign which did not prevent other attacks on churches.
The Forum believes that the Alexandria bombings should be dealt with within the context of recent escalation in sectarian tensions and violence in Egypt. Forum organizations assert that the mismanagement of sectarian tensions and violence by the state creates a fertile ground and conducive environment for these incidents to take place. The state itself at times even spreads and adopts a disposition of violence in its policies when dealing with religious minorities and even all citizens. In fact, the Alexandria attack took place only a few days after the government used excessive force with Christians who were demanding to build a church in Giza, killing two protestors and injuring and arresting tens others in what is known as the Omraneya incident at the end of November, 2010.
It is time for state officials to stop denying that there is a real sectarian crisis in Egypt and insisting on handling sectarian incidents using a heavy-handed security solution. Such a short-sighted and superficial strategy proved inept in dealing with continuously spiraling sectarian violence expanding in geographic scope.
The Forum for Independent Egyptian Human Rights Organizations are urging the government to adopt a new policy in handling terrorism and religious violence, based on respect for the rule of law, halting security abuses and protecting the rights of everyone without discrimination. The state must also draft a comprehensive strategy to deal with all types of sectarian tensions through consultations with civil society and religious institutions. This includes reforming educational curricula and directing media messages in a way that enforces the principles of religious tolerance, equal citizenry and co-existence.
Although the Egyptian government is primarily responsible for the crime in Alexandria, the Forum believes that civic groups, the media, Muslim and Christian scholars and clerics, local government leaders and all other stakeholders also bear some responsibility in confronting the threats of terrorism and sectarianism.
1. Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Non-Violence Studies
2. Arab Network for Human Rights Information
3. Arab Penal Reform Organization
4. Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression
5. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies
6. Egyptian Association for the Enhancement of Community Participation
7. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights