CAIRO: Sectarian violence in Egypt declined in 2014, the U.S. state department announced in its International Religious Freedom Report for 2014, released Wednesday.
“Christians in Upper Egypt, however, were targeted for kidnapping and extortion disproportionately. Building and re-building churches in the absence of anticipated legislation was sometimes met with societal resistance, occasionally turning violent.” The report added that many Christians have to resort to reconciliation meetings to seek redress for wrongs, and that many feel the outcomes are biased against them.
In Upper Egypt, the concept of tahr, meaning revenge or blood debt, dictates that if a family member is killed, a member of the killer’s family must die, which can often spiral into cycles of violence. Police and court procedures often do not sufficiently redress families’ honor, so reconciliation meetings are seen as a practical means to curb violence and preserve face in the community.
Following the ouster of the Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi in July 2013, many churches as well as property owned by Christians were targeted in retaliatory attacks.
President Sisi became the first sitting president to attend a Christmas mass in January 2015. As a presidential candidate, he also attended an Easter mass in April 2014.
The 2014 constitution protects freedom of membership in the three Abrahamic faiths: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, but does not allow for conversion from Islam; all citizens are required to declare a religion on their ID cards.
The report noted that “discrimination against atheists continued; those who appeared on television talk shows were vilified by the hosts and faced societal rejection, including attacks and lawsuits.”
On Oct. 11, a 5-year prison sentence was upheld against Islam el-Behery in May over charges of defaming religion.
Beheiry hosted “With Islam,” a daily show on private TV channel Al Kahera Wal Nas, providing his interpretation of Islam. His opinions stirred controversy for questioning the credibility of the sources of the Hadith, (Prophet Muhammad’s sayings;) the second basic reference for Islamic teachings after the Quran.