USCIRF 16th report discusses religious freedom in Egypt in 2013
A United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) logo
By NOURHAN MAGDI

CAIRO: A United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) annual report was issued to discuss the state of freedom of religion around the world during the year 2013, where it highlighted the sectarian violence that took place in Egypt throughout the year.

The 16th International Religious Freedom report signaled acts of discrimination, violence and abuse that individuals and religious minorities faced across the world in 2013, during which it noted that the “world witnessed the largest displacement of religious communities in recent memory.”

In Egypt, the report said that Shia Muslims and Christians faced violent and deadly attacks. However, it also shed light on some acts of “interfaith solidarity” that occurred such as Muslim men standing in front of a Catholic church to protect the congregation from attacks.

Organized groups orchestrated several attacks on different occasions on churches and Christian-owned homes and businesses which increased in August 14-17, the report added. “Assailants attacked at least 42 churches in various governorates, in addition to schools, orphanages, and other Christian-affiliated facilities.”

At least 37 churches were looted and destructed, and at least six Christians were targeted over their religious identity, said the report.

Also, the report noted a violent incident that took place on June 23, 2013 when thousands of angry villagers, led by Salafist sheikhs, killed four Shia citizens, marking one of the major discrimination acts that took place against religious minorities in Egypt.

In the same context, the report attributed the reasons for such attacks being the anti-Shia rhetoric prevailing at this time, where the report mentioned that a Salafist sheikh once described Shia Muslims as “non-believers who must be killed” during a conference attended by former Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.

On governmental progress regarding the matter, the report said “Egyptian transitional and newly elected governments have made some improvements related to freedom of religion and belief and there was positive societal progress between religious communities,” referring to the post-June 30 government.

The June 30 incidents led to the ouster of Morsi, the former president which was affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood group against which angry demonstrations took to the streets.

The report recorded a significant decrease in the number of sectarian violence under the transitional government; however, it criticized the government’s slow pace and failure to protect religious minorities from violence.

The report also criticized the continuity of imprisonment of citizens charged with contempt or defamation of religion, while the perpetrators of such violent incidents enjoy impunity.

There were some reactions spotted regarding the U.S report, which blamed “U.S interference” in some secular violence and violations taking place in different countries, said Hisham el-Nagar, an Islamist researcher told Youm7 Wednesday.

El-Nagar, however, added that during Morsi’s reign, there were many violations and there were, in response, demands to hold perpetrators accountable and submit them to fair trials.

Former Leader of al-Gamaa al-Islamiya Awad el-Hatab described the U.S report as a “U.S coup on the Brotherhood group after the group failed to achieve America’s demands in Egypt.”

In his statements to Youm7, Hatab said that what was mentioned in the report about discrimination against Christians in Egypt were “lies aiming to incite sectarianism in Egypt.”

Freedom of Religion was guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which stipulate that everyone has the right and freedom to change their religion or belief as well as to manifest their religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.

Additional Reporting by Kamel Kamel and Ahmed Arafa.

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