Gunmen kill at least 28 Coptic Christians in central Egypt

By Heba Farouk
The Washington Post
May 26, 2017

CAIRO — Militants in military-style uniforms opened fire on a bus carrying Coptic Christians in central Egypt on Friday, killing at least 28 people in the latest bloodshed targeting the country’s Christian minority, officials said.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility. But the Islamic State has claimed links to previous attacks against Egypt’s Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population.

The attack also took place on the eve of Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, a time when some militant factions have stepped up attacks in the past.

The ambush — in the Minya region about 150 miles south of Cairo — underscored the increasing pressures on Egyptian forces as Islamist militants gain greater footholds around the country, undercutting Egypt’s vital tourism industry and forcing greater security for Coptic Christians and others targeted by militants.

The Minya governor, Maj. Gen. Essam el-Bedewey, said at least 28 people were killed and at least 25 were wounded when the attackers fired on the bus heading for the St. Samuel Monastery, one of several pilgrimage sites in an area that is home to a large portion of Egypt’s Christian population.

The Reuters news agency and other reports said children were among the dead.

A member of the region’s security department, Maj. Mohamed Abdel-Moneim, told reporters that about 10 men wearing military-style gear carried out the attack.

Last month, twin bomb blasts rocked churches in the Mediterranean port of Alexandria and the northern city of Tanta, leaving 44 dead and prompting Egypt’s president, Abdel Fatah al-Sissi, to declare a state of emergency.

After the latest attack, Sissi called an emergency meeting of security officials, state-run media reported.

In late April, Pope Francis visited Egypt as part of Vatican outreach to Egypt’s embattled Christians, whose community dates back to the early centuries of the faith. But the papal trip also brought denunciations from Islamist militants and warnings of further reprisals.

In December, a bomb hit the main cathedral in Cairo, killing 25 people as part of what is being described as a new strategy by the Islamic State to target Christians.

Christians have been generally supportive of Sissi’s military-backed government, but have become increasingly critical of the inability of the country’s security forces to protect their places of worship.

“The state is doing its best, but we need more efforts,” Minya’s Coptic Bishop Makarios told The Washington Post. “They [security forces] are always present and on guard after the attack takes place, and keep their security measures tightened for a short while after. . . . What we need is real effort exerted to ensure this is not repeated, not just solidarity and compassion.”

ISIS claims responsibility for Egypt's Palm Sunday church bombings

By Joe Sterling, Faith Karimi, Mohammed Tawfeeq and Hamdi Alkhshali, CNN

Sun April 9, 2017

(CNN)ISIS claimed responsibility for bombings that killed 43 at two Coptic churches in Egypt on Palm Sunday -- brazen strikes against a vulnerable minority on one of the most important days on the Christian calendar.

ISIS issued the claim on the Telegram messaging platform. The claim was circulated by several ISIS supporters. ISIS identified the suicide bombers as Egyptian nationals. Egyptian authorities have not confirmed the bombers' nationalities.

In their claim of responsibility, ISIS warned of more attacks with this message: "The Crusaders and their tails from the apostates must be aware that the bill between us and them is very large and they will be paying it like a river of blood from their sons, if God willing."

The first blast was in the northern city of Tanta, where a powerful explosion ripped through a Palm Sunday service at St. George's Church, killing 27 people and wounding 78 others, state TV reported. The explosive device was planted under a seat in the main prayer hall, it said.

Not long after that, at least 16 people were killed and 41 others wounded in a suicide bomb attack outside St. Mark's Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Alexandria, according to two state-news outlets. Egyptian state media also reported that the head of Egypt's Coptic Church, Pope Tawadros II, was inside the cathedral when the blast happened. He was not injured.

In a statement, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi condemned the attacks, saying the "outrageous" action "targets both the Copts and Muslims of the homeland." He ordered investigators to "hunt down the perpetrators" and "take all measures to offer the necessary care for the wounded."

He called an urgent meeting of his country's National Defense Council and declared three days of nationwide mourning.

"The attack will not undermine the resolve and true will of the Egyptian people to counter the forces of evil, but will only harden their determination to move forward on their trajectory to realize security, stability and comprehensive development," the statement said.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres also condemned the attacks and offered his sympathies to the victims and to the country in statement through a spokesman.

Guterres "wishes a quick recovery to those injured and hopes that the perpetrators of this horrific terrorist act will be swiftly identified and brought to justice," the spokesman, Stéphane Dujarric, said.

The US State Department, in a statement, also issued a rebuke, calling the bombings "barbaric attacks on Christian places of worship."

"The United States will continue to support Egypt's security and stability in its efforts to defeat terrorism," said acting spokesperson Mark Toner.

The horrific attacks were the latest against Christians in the region, this time on Palm Sunday -- the Sunday before Easter, and the day that marks the start of Holy Week for Christians.

Nile and Masriya TV, Egyptian state outlets, aired black banners in the upper left of its newscasts to signify mourning for the victims of both explosions.

News footage from Tanta shows people gathering at the church, singing hymns. The video then quickly switches to bars as harrowing screams and cries echo in the background.

"Everything is destroyed inside the church" and blood can be seen on marble pillars, said Peter Kamel, who saw the aftermath of the carnage.

It appeared the explosive device was placed near the altar, he said. Priests and the church choir were among the casualties.

In Alexandria, the Interior Ministry said in a statement that police assigned to St. Mark's stopped a terrorist with an explosive belt from breaking into the church. Along with civilians, a policeman, a policewoman and other police staff were killed.

Egyptian blogger Maged Butter told CNN he saw five or six ambulances and blood stains 100 meters away from the site of the explosion -- which happened near the church gate.

He said women were crying and looking for their loved ones and were yelling at police for "not protecting" them.

"Every now and then, I see a person crying -- I think they are Christian -- and they keep saying: 'have you seen my family? Have you seen my family?' " Butter said.

Fadi Sami, another witness, was inside the Alexandria cathedral when he heard about the church bombing in Tanta, when the Coptic pope was leading the prayers for Palm Sunday.

And even though no one announced the Tanta news, Sami said he could hear the sadness in the pope's voice. He left as the pope finished the sermon. Twenty minutes later, a suicide bomber blew himself up at the gate of the church.

"I came back and the area was covered in smoke. The stores around the church were all destroyed," he said. "There were bodies and body parts everywhere, outside and inside the gate. I saw a man put together what was left of his son in a bag."

Alexandria sits on the Mediterranean and has a large Christian population. Downtown is usually busy but was relatively quiet on Sunday because of the holiday. "This is usually a very busy area, but thank God it is a Sunday, and many shops are closed," he said.

Copts in Egypt have faced persecution and discrimination that has spiked since the toppling of Hosni Mubarak's regime in 2011.

Dozens have been killed in sectarian violence. In December, an attack at a Coptic church in Cairo killed 25 people.

Coptic churches and homes have been set on fire, members of the Coptic minority have been physically attacked, and their property has been looted, rights group Amnesty International reported in March.

Coptic Christians make up about 10% of Egypt's population of 91 million. They base their theology on the teachings of the apostle Mark, who introduced Christianity to Egypt. Tanta is roughly 60 miles (96 kilometers) north of Cairo, in the Nile delta.

The bombings come days after President Donald Trump welcomed el-Sisi to Washington and stressed his support for Egypt. Among the topics of mutual concern were terrorism and ISIS. Trump tweeted a condemnation of Sunday's attacks and said he has "great confidence el-Sisi will handle the situation properly."

El-Sisi met Saturday with a US congressional delegation led by US Rep. Darrell Issa, the Egyptian government said. The meeting addressed Egypt's counterterrorism efforts and a strategy to fight terror while encouraging religious tolerance and acceptance of others.

Pope Francis is scheduled to visit Cairo this month, where he will meet with various religious leaders, including the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church. He expressed his grief following the church attack.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, called the attacks "evil" and urged people to pray for the victims. Russia's President Vladimir Putin condemned the attack and offered his condolences to el-Sisi, according to Russia's state-run Tass.

Car bomb attack kills Egypt's top public prosecutor

Jun 29, 2015

Egypt's top public prosecutor was killed by a car bomb attack on his convoy on Monday, the most senior state official to die at the hands of militants since the toppling of an Islamist president two years ago.

There was no confirmed claim of responsibility. Security sources said a bomb in a parked car was remotely detonated as Hisham Barakat's motorcade left his home, after saying earlier a car bomber had rammed into the convoy.

Judges and other senior officials have increasingly been targeted by radical Islamists opposed to President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and angered by hefty prison sentences imposed on members of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

Last month, the Islamic State militant group's Egyptian affiliate urged followers to attack judges, opening a new front in an Islamist insurgency in Egypt.

Chief prosecutor Barakat was the highest-ranking state official to die in a militant attack since Sisi, a former army chief, ousted Islamist president Mohamed Mursi in mid-2013 after mass protests against his rule.

Mursi, a Brotherhood leader who was freely elected as Egypt's president in 2012, was sentenced this month to death over a mass jailbreak in 2011.

Monday's attack stirred fears of yet more turmoil in Egypt, which has been struggling since the 2011 popular uprising that toppled Hosni Mubarak to regain full-fledged stability and revive the economy of the Arab world's most populous country.

The bombing also showed the risk of militant Islam threatening the Egyptian state leadership, as it did in the 1980s and 1990s.

State media confirmed the death of Barakat, 64, at a hospital in the residential district of Heliopolis where he had undergone surgery hours earlier, and said he would receive a military funeral.

The Brotherhood denies any link to violence and says it is committed to peaceful activism. Its spokesman said on the group's Facebook page it rejected killing, but that responsibility for the attack on the public prosecutor lay with the authorities.


Health Minister Adel Adawi told reporters outside al-Nozha hospital where Barakat was admitted that the cause of death was "ruptures in the lung and stomach, and internal bleeding".

State news agency MENA said the bomb blast wounded at least nine other people including police and civilians.

Hours after the explosion, which sent a large plume of black smoke aloft in front of a row of apartment buildings near the military academy, six burnt cars clogged up a street strewn with broken glass and fragments of metal. Windows were shattered in surrounding buildings up to nine stories high.

"It felt like the apartment was lifted up and dropped right back on the ground. When I felt it I said to my family, this is it, death has come for us," said 17-year-old Khaled Youssef.

Sisi's office mourned Barakat's death and canceled celebrations prepared for Tuesday to mark the anniversary of mass unrest that led to Mursi's fall, and said the perpetrators would draw "the most severe punishment".

The government, however, declared June 30 a national holiday in commemoration of the 2013 protests, state media said.

"These kinds of vicious attacks will not deter the state from continuing its path of development, the adoption of rights, and realizing the hopes and aspirations of the Egyptian people," the presidency's office said in a statement according to MENA.

TV presenter given 5 years imprisonment for blasphemy

Daily News Egypt  /   May 31, 2015

The Old Cairo Misdemeanour Court handed Saturday a five year prison sentence to TV presenter Islam El-Behiry for blasphemy.

A lawyer filed a lawsuit against El-Behiry, saying he led a campaign through his TV show to attack Muslim scholars and Islamic teachings’ textbooks.

El-Behiry has been hosting a programme that questions the teachings of Salafi preachers. In many of his episodes, he provides clips of famous and much respected Salafi preachers, and criticises their religious arguments.

The independent researcher also calls for disregarding ancient interpretations of the Qur’an and preaches individual understanding of the text.

Interpretations by prominent Muslim scholars dating back to the Middle Ages are considered manifestos to ultraconservative Salafi groups.

The Old Cairo Misdemeanour Court argued that El-Behiry has violated articles of the penal code, which sentences whoever insults or undermines Abrahamic religions to a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

Egypt’s most prominent Sunni institution and the highest government-controlled religious institution, Al-Azhar, had filed a complaint against El-Behiry, accusing him of “deliberately aiming to make people question their beliefs”.

Al-Azhar stated that it is concerned with the “vicious attacks by some media personnel against the basic values and heritage of Islam”.

Egypt says suicide bomber caused deadly bus blast

Terrorist boarded bus full of South Korean tourists and detonated, killing four, officials say; group of survivors crosses into Israel

BY AFP, AP AND MITCH GINSBURG February 17, 2014,

A  suicide bomber was behind the deadly blast that tore through a bus carrying South Korean tourists, Egyptian security officials said.

The officials said the bomber boarded the bus while it waited near the Egypt-Israel border crossing at Taba in the Sinai Peninsula. The Egyptian driver and the South Korean guide had disembarked but were close to the bus when Sunday’s blast took place, according to the officials.

South Korean officials said the bombing killed three South Koreans and an Egyptian driver. The tourists were Korean Christians who had saved for years to visit Biblical sites on their church’s 60th anniversary.

“The preliminary investigation shows some tourists disembarked to get their bags. A man walked to the bus. There was an explosion when he reached the third step,” interior ministry spokesman Hany Abdel Latif told AFP.

The tourists were all members of the same church group from the central South Korean county of Jincheon and were on a 12-day trip through Turkey, Egypt and Israel. They were about to cross into Israel when the attack occurred.

The South Korean ambassador to Egypt, Kim Young-So, told Seoul’s MBN TV station that the bus bombing appeared to be a “suicide bombing by a terrorist.”

An al-Qaeda-linked Islamist group, Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, took responsibility for the bombing. On its Twitter account, the organization promised to continue to attack Egypt’s economy, tourism, and military.

The group, based in the Sinai Peninsula, has deployed several suicide bombers in attacks on police, as well as in a failed attempt to assassinate interior minister Mohamed Ibrahim in September.

Fifteen survivors from the blast crossed into Israel on Monday and are staying at a hotel in the resort city of Eilat, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported. Other tourists who had been on the bus carrying 33 were still hospitalized in the Sinai.

Egypt refused offers of Israeli help after the blast, transporting at least 12 injured people to hospitals in the Sinai peninsula instead of the closer Yoseftal Hospital in Eilat.

Terrorists have killed dozens of tourists in sporadic attacks over the past several decades, mostly recently in a 2009 bombing that killed a French tourist in Cairo.

Maj. (res.) Aviv Oreg, formerly the head of Al Qaeda and Global Jihad desk at the Israel Defense Force’s military intelligence directorate, said the bombing was likely intended to send a message to Jerusalem and Cairo.

For jihadist organizations in the Sinai Peninsula, this sort of attack is ”very sufficient in order to pinpoint that Israel is their target in their aspirations,” he told The Times of Israel.

Police under now deposed president Hosni Mubarak had all but stamped out Islamist militancy after a spate of Sinai resort bombings between 2004 and 2006.

But the three-year period of lawlessness and unrest after Mubarak’s overthrow in 2011 has allowed the militants to regroup in the restive Sinai peninsula and to branch out to the Nile Delta.

“A continuation in attacks on tourists would mean a shift in strategy by jihadist groups that until now targeted the military and police,” said Issandr El Amrani of the International Crisis Group.

“But that cannot be judged after one attack,” he added.

The head of Egypt’s Chamber of Tourism said the attack could have been aimed at hitting the tourism industry, one of Egypt’s top revenue generators.

“The attack aimed at harming tourism in general,” said Elhami al-Zayat.

Sunday’s bombing came as a court in Cairo began trying Morsi and 35 co-defendants on charges of espionage and collusion with militants to launch attacks in Egypt.

Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected and civilian president, was ousted after a year in power amid massive protests demanding his resignation.

The military-installed government has since accused Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood of masterminding the attacks that have also targeted police headquarters in Cairo.

The Brotherhood, now designated as a terrorist group, publicly renounced violence decades ago and denies involvement in the attacks.

The deadliest attacks have been claimed by the Sinai-based Ansar Beit al-Maqdis group, whose leadership is drawn from militant Bedouin who want an Islamist state in the peninsula.

In recent months, ever since Morsi’s ouster, cooperation between Israeli and Egyptian authorities “has been largely enhanced,” Oreg said, moving from the tactical and operational level to the intelligence realm. The Shin Bet, too, has been forced, over the course of the past two years, to realign itself in order to address the growing threats from the Sinai.

In Egypt streets, Islamists throw weight around

By Yasmine Saleh
CAIRO | Wed Nov 7, 2012

(Reuters) - Mohamed Talaat didn't like the fact Christian music was being played at a party to promote interfaith harmony in the Egyptian town of Minya south of Cairo, so together with a group of like-minded Islamist hardliners, he showed up to put a stop to it.

It was simply un-Islamic to broadcast Christian songs, Talaat explained.

"Egypt is Islamic and so we all have to accept Islamic rules to halt any strife," he said by telephone.

Four months since Egypt elected veteran Muslim Brotherhood politician Mohamed Mursi as president, human rights activists say hardliners are trying to impose Islamist ways on society.

Although reliable data on social trends is hard to find in Egypt, many people believe that cases of religious intimidation have increased.

"There is no doubt that the rate of strange and violent practices by strict Islamists has increased tremendously since the election of Mursi," said Gamal Eid, founder of The Arabic Network for Human Rights Information, a human rights group.

"We have in a few months seen many more of such incidents than we have seen in years before Mursi," he said.

Seemingly sporadic incidents are turning into what rights activists describe as an emerging pattern of abuses in the street by radicals, defying both the authority of the state and Mursi's own promises to protect personal freedoms.

From the fatal stabbing of a young man who was out with his fiancée to the case of a conservative teacher who cut schoolgirls' hair because it was uncovered, the examples are stacking up.

Such actions have grabbed local headlines and fuelled the worst-case-scenario fears of moderates worried by the rise of Islamists who were tightly reined in by Hosni Mubarak but have emerged as a major force since he was swept from power.

In Cairo, it seems little has changed. The capital is still a place where teenagers hold hands in public, Egyptian-brewed beer is sold and pleasure boats cruise the Nile blasting out the kind of pop music frowned upon by the hardliners.

And importantly for a tourism industry that employs one in eight Egyptians, it is business as usual at Red Sea beach resorts that are a major draw for Western tourists.

Yet, say activists, the hardliners are flexing their muscles more than before, particularly in some of the more far flung corners of a country of 83 million.


Egypt's Christian minority, the Middle East's largest, has lived with increasing fear of sectarian violence, which worsened in Mubarak's final weeks and the early days of the interim military rule that followed his ouster in February 2011.

Weeks before Mubarak was ousted, 23 Coptic Christians were killed in the bombing of a church on New Year's Day 2011. Five months later, with generals still in charge of the country, several churches in Cairo were torched and Christian houses and businesses destroyed. Fifteen people died and hundreds were wounded in the May 2011 religious unrest.

The period since Mursi took power has so far been spared violence on last year's scale, but there have been flare-ups, such as in August when about 16 people were injured in attacks on a church in a village near Cairo.

Christians say overall the atmosphere has become increasingly menacing as the presence of hostile Salafi Muslim hardliners in public life has grown more pronounced.

"Extremists' actions are worrying all Egyptians and not only Christians," said Karim Goher, a Christian and one of the organizers of the halted interfaith celebration in Minya.


Since a group of youths killed a young man while he was out with his fiancée in the port city of Suez in July, there have been a steady stream of reports in a similar vein.

This week, a Suez grocer filed a legal complaint against a group of Salafis, or ultra-orthodox Muslims, who had threatened to enact religious justice against his son by cutting out his tongue. The Salafis accused the boy of insulting religion, according to Gharib Mahmoud, the grocer.

Self-appointed "committees for the propagation of virtue and elimination of vice" have surfaced elsewhere. The name evokes the religious police of Saudi Arabia, whose strict brand of Wahhabi Islam has inspired Salafis in Egypt in recent decades.

In Kafr el-Sheikh, a town in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, one such committee handed out flyers in late October warning it would "use force against violators of its instructions". Similar acts of intimidation have been reported by Christians in the middle-class Cairo district of Shubra.

"We warn you Christian people to give up your filthy trade in filthy statues and paintings," read a letter warning Victor Younan, an 83-year old Christian shopkeeper, to stop selling images of Jesus. Eight other Christians told Reuters they had received similar notes.

During his presidential campaign, Mursi reassured Egypt's Christians, estimated to represent about a tenth of the population, they would be protected. Yet many remain uneasy.

The same can be said for many moderate Muslims in a country where piety runs deep but a history of violent Islamist radicalism in the 1980s and 1990s has made many suspicious of hardliners willing to take the law into their own hands.

The radicals present a headache for the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties that have entered mainstream politics since Mubarak was toppled, such as the Nour Party, a salafist group which has distanced itself from what it describes as individual acts of vigilantism.

Mahmoud Ghozlan, the spokesman for the Brotherhood, said of the vice committees: "They don't represent the Brotherhood or most of Egypt's moderates, but only a group of minority, hardline individuals."

"We hope such incidents vanish soon."

But the Brotherhood has been criticized for failing to adequately spell out a moderate interpretation of Islam, leaving space for hardliners to propagate their ideas on the rights of women and Christians, for example.

"They say they will not discriminate, but don't say what that means in terms of actions," said Nabil Abdel Fattah, an Egyptian political analyst and expert on Islamist groups.

The authorities appear to be applying the law where possible: the three youths behind the Suez stabbing were handed 15-year sentences in September. The Christians who received the threatening letters in Shubra reported the incident to the police, though they say there have been no arrests.

The teacher who cut the hair of her unveiled pupils was given a suspended six-month jail sentence by a Luxor court this week.

The police did not get involved in Minya, where the organizers cancelled the interfaith celebration to avoid trouble. Planned for the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Adha, the October 28 event had been named "Light in Times of Darkness" and marked an effort to ease friction in the shifting political landscape.

Musicians at the event were playing both Christian and Islamic music, before Islamists ordered them to stop, said Alaa Kabawy, a Muslim who was one of several thousand attendees.

"Similar events used to happen during Mubarak's time and nothing like this happened before. It was so shameful to see that happen," he said.

Protesters storm U.S. Embassy in Cairo

By the CNN Wire Staff
Tue September 11, 2012

Cairo (CNN) -- Angry protesters climbed the walls of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo on Tuesday and hauled down the American flag, replacing it with a black standard with Islamic emblems, apparently in protest of the production of a film thought to insult the Prophet Mohammed.

The incident prompted a volley of warning shots to be fired as a large crowd gathered outside, said CNN producer Mohammed Fahmy, who was on the scene.

The replacement flag read, "There is no God but Allah and Mohammad is his messenger."

Others expressed more general grievances about U.S. policy, chanting anti-American slogans and holding up bits of a shredded American flag to television camera crews in front of the embassy.

An embassy operator told CNN that the facility had been cleared of diplomatic personnel earlier Tuesday, ahead of the apparent threat, while Egyptian riot police were called to help secure the area.

The U.S. Embassy said in a statement Tuesday that it "condemns the continuing efforts by misguided individuals to hurt the religious feelings of Muslims -- as we condemn efforts to offend believers of all religions."

"Respect for religious beliefs is a cornerstone of American democracy," the statement said. "We firmly reject the actions by those who abuse the universal right of free speech to hurt the religious beliefs of others."

The incident occurred on the 11th anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania, as crowds gathered in somber remembrance of the nearly 3,000 people killed that day.

It is not clear which film upset the protesters in Cairo.

In 2008, an anti-Muslim and anti-immigration parliamentarian from The Netherlands sparked international outcry when he produced a film that portrayed Islam as a violent religion.

Geert Wilders' film "Fitna," which he released online, featured images of terrorist acts superimposed over verses from the Quran.

Islamic militants gaining foothold in Sinai Desert

Vast areas of Egypt's Sinai Desert have descended into lawlessness in recent months, providing fertile ground for small cells of extremist militants that have emerged from the shadows and quietly established training camps near the Israeli border, according to Bedouin elders and security experts.

By Ernesto Londoqo
The Washington Post
July 15, 2012

RAFAH, Egypt — Vast areas of Egypt's Sinai Desert have descended into lawlessness in recent months, providing fertile ground for small cells of extremist militants that have emerged from the shadows and quietly established training camps near the Israeli border, according to Bedouin elders and security experts.
The militants include men who have fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, as well as Islamists who were released from prison after the 2011 popular revolt that toppled President Hosni Mubarak and drove much of his potent security apparatus underground.

Drawing little notice during a period of dramatic developments in Cairo, the militants have become increasingly bold and visible amid a broader breakdown of security in the strategically important desert, a buffer zone between Israel and Egypt. The eclipse of authority has also given rise to Sharia courts run by Islamic scholars who settle disputes according to Islamic law.

The Egyptian government's failure to restore order in Sinai has unnerved Israel, in part because of a recent attack on an Israeli border post. Some local residents worry that Israel might ultimately respond unilaterally, a prospect that alarms those who survived successive wars in the Sinai between the neighbors in the 1960s and 1970s.

"In one year, this could all become extremely dangerous," said Nassar Abu Akra, a merchant and elder in the area who fears that the rise of a violent militant movement could spark a crushing response from Israel. "If Israel responds to protect its land, it would be a disaster — a massacre. Even normal people, not just jihadis, would fight and die if Israelis came back."

U.S. officials have grown increasingly concerned about deteriorating security in the Sinai. The subject is all but certain to come up during Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton's visit to Cairo, particularly because two U.S. citizens were reportedly kidnapped in the area Friday.

The Sinai peninsula was contested territory for much of the past century, largely because it is a gateway to the Suez Canal, which connects the Mediterranean Sea and Red Seas. Israeli forces occupied the Sinai in 1956 and 1967 and fought a war against Egyptian troops in the following decade. Egypt regained full control of the Sinai after the 1979 peace treaty brokered by the United States.

A U.S. Army battalion consisting of several hundred soldiers is stationed in the Sinai as part of an international peacekeeping force.

In the recent turmoil, militants have been carrying out attacks on lightly armed police officers in recent months and have repeatedly bombed the pipeline that carries natural gas to Israel.

Bedouin tribesmen with grievances against the state, meanwhile, have kidnapped foreign tourists and international peacekeepers. Drug runners and human smugglers have also seized the moment, making both lucrative trades increasingly violent.

Soon after Egyptians rose up in Cairo in late January 2011 against Mubarak's authoritarian regime, residents in northern Sinai went on a looting rampage, burning police stations and other symbols of a state that became despised for the heavy hand of its security forces and the few services it offered to the residents of the impoverished, barren area.

As Mubarak was ousted, the black-clad police officers who for decades treated bearded men in the Sinai as terror suspects melted away. Police stations and checkpoints were reduced to piles of ashes and debris. Soldiers took up positions along the road that connects Cairo and the Gaza Strip, barricading themselves inside tanks and other fighting vehicles surrounded by walls of sandbags.

As pillars of the police state eroded, hundreds of Islamists left prison — some through release orders, others by breaking out. Maree Arar, a 41-year-old with a scraggly beard, was among those freed Islamists. Arar said he does not endorse acts of violence committed in the Sinai by militants, some of whom he said he knows, but they ought to be seen in proper context.

"They feel that there is still lingering injustice," he said while fiddling with an iPhone. "We still have prisoners we want to get out; there are violations against our brothers in Palestine; there is a war on Islam all over the world. They are affected by it. They can't control themselves."

Retired Egyptian Gen. Sameh Saif el-Yazl, who heads a center for political and strategic studies in Cairo, said the status quo in the Sinai is untenable.

Hard-line fighters in the Sinai include men who fought in Afghanistan and Pakistan in recent years, he said. They have joined forces with Islamists released recently from prison.

"They want to impose Islamic law over the state," said Yazl, whose views on security matters are widely seen as reflective of those of the country's military chiefs. "The government must impose its control and rule over Sinai. Right now the law is not respected."

A police official based in the Sinai city of Arish said in an interview that respect was the least of his worries. Men like him are being hunted.

"We leave our families to do our duties," said the officer, who spoke at a beachfront cafe just above a whisper and insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals.

"Why are we coming home as dead bodies? We want to know why. If we are being targeted, let us leave this place for the people and the army."

Ibrahim el-Meneey, a powerful Bedouin tribal elder who lives a few miles from the Israeli border, said that arrangement would be ideal, as long as the military sticks to guarding the road.

The tribes, which have stockpiled everything from small arms to anti-aircraft missiles, are doing a fine job of dealing with violent human smugglers, drug runners and other miscreants who have taken advantage of the security vacuum over the past year, he said.

"Here, it's all tribes," Meneey said, sitting on a moonlit sandy patch outside his house, which is close enough to Israel that cellphones roam onto the country's mobile networks. "Security is very stable."

But he worries that such groups could evolve into a powerful movement with links to militant groups in Palestinian territories and other Muslim countries. For the time being, there is little support for the budding jihadist cells among the members of his tribe, the Sawarka, the elder said. That could change, he cautioned, if the government once again carries out indiscriminate arrests.

"The Bedouin is a peaceful being," Meneey said, sipping sweet tea. "But if he feels humiliated, he will never forget. The government has to work quickly to deliver justice."

If the Egyptian government fails to find the right approach to restore security and services, he said: "This could become like a second Afghanistan. It could become an international war."

Over 3000 Muslims Attack Christian Homes and Shops in Egypt

Posted GMT 1-28-2012

(AINA) -- A mob of over 3000 Muslims attacked Copts in the village of Kobry-el-Sharbat (el-Ameriya), Alexandria this afternoon. Coptic homes and shops were looted before being set ablaze. Two Copts and a Muslim were injured. The violence started after a rumor was spread that a Coptic man had an allegedly intimate photo of a Muslim woman on his mobile phone. The Coptic man, Mourad Samy Guirgis, surrendered to the police this morning morning for his protection.

According to eyewitnesses, the perpetrators were bearded men in white gowns. "They were Salafists, and some of were from the Muslim Brotherhood," according to one witness. It was reported that terrorized women and children who lost their homes were in the streets without any place to go.

According to Father Boktor Nashed from St. George's Church in el-Nahdah, a meeting between Muslim and Christian representatives was supposed to take place in the evening in Kobry-el-Sharbat. But, by 3 P.M. a Muslim mob looted and torched the home of Mourad Samy Guirgis, as well as the home of his family and three homes of Coptic neighbors. A number of Coptic-owned shops and businesses were also looted and torched. "We contacted security forces, but they arrived very, very late," Said Father Nashad. The fire brigade was prevented from going into the village by the Muslims and the fires were left to burn themselves out. "Those who lost their home, left the village," said Father Nashed.

Coptic activist Mariam Ragy, who was covering the violence in Kobry-el-Sharbat , said it took the army 1 hour to drive 2 kilometers to the village. "This happens every time. They wait outside the village until the Muslims have had enough violence, then they appear." She said that she spoke to many Copts from the village this evening who said that although their homes were not attacked, Muslims stood in the street asking them to come to their homes to hide. "They believed that this was a new trick to make them leave, so that Muslims would loot and torch their homes while they were away," said Ragy.

The Gov of Alexandria visited al-Nahda, near Kobry-el-Sharbat, this evening and told elYoum 7 newspaper that the two Copts and one Muslim who were injured were transported to hospital. He said that the family of the Muslim girl whose image was on the Copt's mobile phone wanted revenge from the Coptic man. They broke into his home and torched a furniture factory located in the same building.

Joseph Malak, a lawyer for the Coptic Church in Alexandria, said it is too early to count injuries to Copts or losses to their property.

Mr. Mina Girguis, of the Maspero Youth Union in Alexandria, said that "collective punishment of Copts for someone else's mistake, which is yet to be determined, is completely unacceptable." He believes that the reason for this violence is fabricated, and the military is behind it. "They are trying to divert the attention from the second revolution which is taking place now."

Father Nashed denied that Islamists were present, only ordinary village Muslims, and could not give an explanation as why people who have lived together amicably for years could commit such violence. "Maybe because of lack of security, they think that they can do as they please."

He said that the nearly 65 Coptic families were ordered to stay indoors and not to open their shops and businesses tomorrow. He added that security forces did not arrest any of the perpetrators, "on the contrary, they were begging the mob to go home."

By midnight the violence had subsided.

By Mary Abdelmassih

Egypt Islamists get majority of parliament seats in final tally

Top-vote-getter Muslim Brotherhood and the new parliament face big problems: unemployment, inflation, strikes, shrinking foreign investment and foreign currency reserves and declining tourism.

By Jeffrey Fleishman and Amro Hassan, Los Angeles Times

January 21, 2012

Reporting from Cairo— A new political era in Egypt began Saturday as Islamist parties won nearly three-quarters of the seats in parliamentary elections to inherit a nation mired in economic crisis and desperate to move beyond military rule and the corrupt legacy of deposed President Hosni Mubarak.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the country's dominant political and religious force, won 47% of the 498 seats in the lower house of parliament, according to official final results. The ultraconservative Salafi Islamist party Al Nour won nearly 25%, followed by the secular parties New Wafd and the Egyptian Bloc, with about 9% each.

The results confirm the dramatic transformation of the Muslim Brotherhood, which for decades was banned from politics and endured the mass arrest and torture of its members. The victory by the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party is a potent sign that political Islam is emerging from a year of uprisings to replace secular autocrats across the Middle East and North Africa.

A new parliament "would not have seen the light if it wasn't for the pure blood of the martyrs who triggered this revolution," Freedom and Justice said in a statement. "The party believes that Egypt's renaissance and development demands participation of all sects of this nation to fulfill this great responsibility."

The elections were a sobering lesson for young activists whose nascent parties were no match for the grass-roots networks and entwined religious and political message of the Islamists. The liberal activists helped ignite the revolution that brought down Mubarak but, winning only seven seats, they have been surpassed by more formidable political powers.

The Brotherhood's euphoria will quickly be confronted by the nation's troubles. The new parliament, expected to hold its first session Monday, faces enormous problems: unemployment, inflation, shrinking foreign investment, labor strikes, declining tourism, and foreign currency reserves that have tumbled to about $10 billion from $36 billion.

The relatively moderate Brotherhood and the puritanical Salafis are likely to battle over how deeply Islam should shape the constitution and be ingrained in public life. Both parties have said social and economic challenges are the most pressing concerns, but the Salafis, who receive funding from Persian Gulf nations, are certain to push for an Egypt more rooted in sharia, or Islamic law.

The Brotherhood will turn to "vital political and economic priorities rather than anything related to religion," said Ammar Ali Hassan, an analyst at the Middle East Center for Political Studies. "They might face constant pressures from less understanding Islamists like Salafis, who are keen on religious priorities, but Freedom and Justice won a [near] majority … and can easily shrug off that pressure."

That may mean the Brotherhood seeking alliances with secular parties. In its statement Saturday, the group espoused political compromise, saying the country "needs everyone to abandon personal interests and work for the sake of Egypt and its sons."

Perhaps the biggest challenge for the parliament will be operating under the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which took control of the country when Mubarak was overthrown in February. The military has agreed to step aside after a president is elected in June. Protests continue against its rule, but the army is not likely to loosen its grip until it is assured that the new government does not curtail its power.

Analysts and politicians have suggested that the military and the Brotherhood have reached a deal in which the Islamists can press ahead on religious matters if the military can retain much of its dominance. Such a scenario has been an increasing worry for liberals and secularists.

The Brotherhood has denied making such an agreement, and its leader, Mohamed Badie, told an Egyptian TV channel that the army would be "held accountable for any mistakes" that led to the deaths of protesters in recent months.

Hours after the election results were announced, state TV reported that the army had ordered the release of nearly 2,000 prisoners tried in military courts, including activists and prominent blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad. The move was seen as a gesture by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi to ease tension between protesters and the army before the first anniversary of the Jan. 25 revolution."

The relation between the Brotherhood and the army has been a tricky one," said Nabil Abdel Fattah at Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. "They have many mutual interests.... It's a tactical rather than a strategical pact that will end in few months, but for the time being, the Brotherhood won't clash with the army at any expense."

Egypt’s Islamic Research Center Wants Christian TV Off Air

Joseph Mayton

29 December 2011

CAIRO: Egypt’s Islamic Research Center, led by Sheikh of al-Azhar Ahmed al-Tayeb, is demanding that United States Christian television station al-Karma of insulting Islam and inciting religious violence in the country.

The offshoot of the Sunni Islamic world’s leading religious institution has also demanded that it be taken off air over what it described as “offensive” material directed at Muslims, daily al-Ahram newspaper reported on Thursday.

The Karma television channel is broadcasted into Egypt by the country’s state-run NileSat, thus making a potential case against the channel easier to ultimately remove the channel from Egyptian households.

The channel, however, is not among the most watched in Egypt, even among the Christian population.

“I have never heard of it, so maybe it isn’t really a big thing, but if al-Azhar is trying to attack it then who knows,” said Noha Fahmy, a young Coptic Christian woman living in Cairo. “To be honest, the more these kind of lawsuits happen the more divisions it will create,” she told Bikyamasr.com.

The Christian community in Egypt, predominantly Coptic Christian, account for some 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million population and have long demanded better treatment and an end to what they have called “marginalization” by the majority Muslim population.

On October 9, thousands of Christians took to the streets in Cairo after a series of church attacks in the south of the country demanding greater rights. The military opened fire on the protesters and ran them over with armored vehicles outside the state television building in what has become known as the “Maspero Massacre.”

At least 27 people were killed in the violence, which the military claims was not done by their soldiers, despite video online showing the opposite.

From Arab Spring to Coptic Winter: Sectarian Violence and the Struggle for Democratic Transition in Egypt

Michael H. Posner
Assistant Secretary, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
Helsinki Commission Hearing
Washington, DC
November 15, 2011

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for conducting this important hearing on the situation faced by Coptic Christian community in Egypt, and for inviting me to testify.

As you know, this is a time of substantial transition in Egypt as Egyptians strive to move their country towards democracy. This is not an easy process and it will not happen overnight. Egypt is only starting on a path from the temporary stewardship of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), through parliamentary elections that will begin in two weeks, then the process of drafting of a new constitution and finally presidential elections. As they move toward these milestones, millions of Egyptians hope to see the emergence of a democratic civilian government that respects the universal rights of all of its citizens.

As part of this vision, it is vital that there be a place in the new Egypt for all citizens, including all religious minorities, of which the Coptic Christian community is the largest. President Obama and Secretary Clinton have made clear their deep concern about violence against Coptic Christians, most recently during the October 9 tragedy in front of the Egyptian radio and television building in the Maspiro area of Cairo. At least 25 people died and more than 300 were injured. We have urged the Egyptian government to investigate this violence, including allegations that the military and police used excessive force that was the cause of most of the demonstrator deaths. We also have urged that those responsible for these deaths and injuries be held accountable.

While the focus of my testimony is on the situation of the Copts, I would like to point out that other religious minorities also suffer official discrimination. While non-Muslim religious minorities officially recognized by the government – namely Christians and the tiny Jewish community – generally worship without harassment, members of the Bahai Faith, which the government does not recognize, face personal and collective discrimination. The government also sometimes arrests, detains, and harasses Muslims such as Shia, Ahmadiya, and Quranist, converts from Islam to Christianity, and members of other religious groups, such as Jehovah’s Witnesses and Mormons. The Government continues to refuse to recognize conversions of Muslims to Christianity or other religions, which constitutes a prohibition in practice.

I would like to set this testimony on the Copts in a broader context. Last week Secretary Clinton gave an important policy address in which she outlined our overall policy on democratization in the Middle East and beyond. She described the US government’s principled engagement in the Middle East. We support the aspirations of citizens to live in societies that guarantee freedom, including freedom of expression, assembly and religion. We also believe strongly in systems that allow citizens a say in how they are governed and that will provide economic opportunities for all. These are the demands that we heard in Tahrir Square, where Copts and Muslims joined hands to protest and to pray in the weeks leading up to the downfall of the Mubarak regime. We have heard similar demands echoing throughout the Middle East and even far beyond that region in the ensuing months.

Secretary Clinton also has spoken out consistently about the importance of religious freedom and religious tolerance, both of which are fundamental to human dignity and peaceful transitions to democracy. Religious freedom is a human right, guaranteed by international human rights law. At the release of the State Department’s report on International Religious Freedom in September, Secretary Clinton emphasized the role that religious freedom and tolerance play in building stable and harmonious societies. She said:

“Hatred and intolerance are destabilizing. When governments crack down on religious expression, when politicians or public figures try to use religion as a wedge issue, or when societies fail to take steps to denounce religious bigotry and curb discrimination based on religious identity, they embolden extremists and fuel sectarian strife. And the reverse is also true: When governments respect religious freedom, when they work with civil society to promote mutual respect, or when they prosecute acts of violence against members of religious minorities, they can help turn down the temperature. They can foster a public aversion to hateful speech without compromising the right to free expression. And in doing so, they create a climate of tolerance that helps make a country more stable, more secure, and more prosperous.”

This is the basis for our belief that in order to succeed and prosper, Egypt, and its neighbors, must protect the rights of all citizens and all minorities, including its Coptic population. The corollary is also true: successful democratic transitions are the best way to safeguard those rights.

Mr. Chairman, the Copts in Egypt have faced discrimination for many years. Christians face personal and collective discrimination, especially in government employment and the ability to build, renovate, and repair places of worship.

Although they represent about 10% of the population and play an important role in Egypt’s economy, Copts have suffered from widespread discrimination and remain underrepresented in prominent positions in Egyptian politics and society.

The headlines – and the trend lines – continue to tell a disturbing story.

I was in Egypt just days after the January 2010 attack on the Nag Hammadi Church in Upper Egypt, when gunmen shot and killed seven people as worshippers were leaving a midnight Christmas mass. At that time, I called for an end to impunity for such crimes and full accountability for those who attacked this holy place. One suspect, Hamam al-Kamouny was tried under the emergency law in a state security court, convicted on January 16 and executed on October 10. The other two defendants, Qoraishi Abul Haggag and Hendawi El-Sayyed, were acquitted by the court, angering many Coptic activists. Yesterday, November 14, Egypt’s official news agency announced that Abol-Haggag and El-Sayyed are to be retried on December 19 under the Higher Emergency State Security Court, for crimes including premeditated murder and terrorism with the use of force and violence. We applaud the pursuit of accountability in this case, although we would prefer that these types of crimes be dealt with in civilian courts with full due process of law.

Almost exactly a year after the Nag Hammadi attack, on January 1, 2011, a bomb exploded at the Coptic Orthodox Church of the Two Saints in Alexandria, killing 23 people and wounding around 100. There are no suspects in custody for that crime, although the Government of Egypt reports that its investigation is ongoing.

These two incidents, and others like them, took place before the fall of President Mubarak on February 11. We have since received reports of an increase in sectarian violence and tensions, including at least 67 people killed in religious clashes – most of them Coptic Christians. This brings the total number of reported deaths this year to more than 90. There have been at least six recent major incidents of violence against Copts:

o On February 23, the Army used live ammunition, including rocket propelled grenades, against unarmed Copts during a land dispute at a monastery. A monk, one of the six shot, later died. To our knowledge, no one has been held accountable for these attacks.

o On March 4, in the village of Sol, a large group of Muslim villagers destroyed the Church of Saint Mina and St. George after the army failed to stop them. To our knowledge, there has been no investigation and no one has been charged despite videos of the perpetrators.

o On March 8, 13 people were killed when Muslims and Copts clashed in the Mukkatum area of Cairo. Some of the Copts had been protesting the slow government response to the destruction of the church in Sol. One Coptic bishop claimed that though news reports listed seven Christians and six Muslims. To our knowledge, there has been no investigation and no one has been charged in the deaths.

o On May 8 in Imbaba, a poor neighborhood of Cairo, two churches were attacked and one burned during sectarian riots. The clashes resulted in 23 deaths and 232 injuries. That month, the official media reported that the government referred 48 suspects to trial. Approximately half of these suspects have been arrested, including a prominent Salafist leader, while half remain at large. The High State Security Court in Giza has adjourned the trial until December 4, when it expects to hear testimony from the remaining witnesses.

o On September 30, in Merinab village in Edfu, Aswan governorate, an estimated crowd of 3,000 Muslims looted and burned the St. George Coptic Orthodox Church, in addition to some Copt-owned homes and businesses, following reported incitement by village imams. Local media reported that a Ministry of Justice fact-finding committee traveled to Aswan on October 12, in the aftermath of the Maspiro violence, to investigate the church burning. The status of this investigation is unclear.

o And finally, on October 9 in Cairo, violence erupted in front of the Egyptian television building known as Maspiro, at a demonstration by Copts protesting the government’s failure to investigate the burning of the church in Merinab in Aswan governorate. At least twenty-five people were killed and more than 300 injured.

On October 11, Secretary Clinton addressed the October 9 violence at Maspiro and called for an immediate, credible, and transparent investigation of all who were responsible for the violence, with full due process of law. The White House issued a statement urging Egyptians to move forward together to forge a strong and united Egypt and reaffirming our belief that the rights of minorities - including Copts - must be respected, and that all people have the universal rights of peaceful protest and religious freedom.

The government of Egypt has stated publicly that they are conducting two investigations. The Egyptian Armed Forces are reviewing the conduct of Military Police, who eyewitnesses and video evidence suggest ran over and shot at demonstrators. The Ministry of Justice has been tasked by the Egyptian Cabinet with a full investigation of the incident. Separately, military prosecutors are investigating about 30 demonstrators, including one prominent blogger, who were detained during the violence. They are accused of inciting violence, stealing firearms, and attacking security forces. They will be tried in military courts.

On November 2, a fact-finding committee established by the National Council for Human Rights issued an initial report on the Maspiro violence. (NCHR is a quasi-governmental watchdog body, but the committee was led by respected human rights advocates). The report found that the march by Copts and their Muslim allies began peacefully at Shubra and moved toward Maspiro in downtown Cairo. According to the report and several corroborating accounts, as the marchers approached Maspiro, they were attacked by civilians throwing rocks and chanting Muslim extremist slogans. According to the same sources, military police then confronted the marchers and attempted to keep them from reaching the building. The MPs used shields and batons, and fired blanks. Marchers began fighting back against the violent civilians and military police. The NCHR report acknowledged that 12 or more civilians were killed when they were run over by military vehicles. The committee said it could not determine who fired the bullets that killed at least seven demonstrators.

During the height of the clashes, state TV anchor Rasha Magdy called on "honorable Egyptians" to defend the Army against "attacks by violent demonstrators." Twenty-one prominent Egyptian human right organizations criticized the “inflammatory role played by the official state media,” charging that a “direct link can be traced between the outright incitement against demonstrators by state media and the events at Maspiro.”

On October 13, the head of Egypt’s military justice system, Adel al-Morsi, said that the military would lead the official investigation into the events. According to Human Rights Watch and local media, the military has arrested approximately 30 individuals. The government has said it will try suspects in military courts, since the crimes involved attacks on military personnel and equipment.

The Coptic community is concerned, as we are, about the severity and frequency of sectarian attacks against their community, and while they recognize that the government has nothing to do with most of these attacks, they are greatly concerned about the need to hold perpetrators accountable. I want to make clear that most of these clashes have involved both Copts and Muslims, and members of both communities have been the perpetrators and victims of the violence. It also is important to emphasize that many Muslims have stood up to defend members of the Coptic community against extremist violence.

The United States Government condemns this sectarian violence and continues to urge the Government of Egypt to take all necessary and available measures to reduce these tensions.

In raising our concerns about the Coptic community, we are also aware and very supportive of the positive steps the Egyptian government has taken on behalf of the Copts. On March 8, by order of the Prime Minister, Coptic priest Mitaus Wahba was released from prison where he was serving a five year sentence for officiating at a wedding of a Christian convert from Islam. On April 14, the SCAF fulfilled its commitment to rebuild a church in Sol that had been destroyed on March 4 by mob violence. And as I noted earlier, the government also took steps in response to the May 8 Imbaba violence; in addition to re-opening dozens of churches, the government is prosecuting 48 individuals charged with murder, attempted murder, and a variety of other crimes. The trial is scheduled to resume on December 4.

The government also has pledged to adopt a Unified Places of Worship Law, which would guarantee all faiths the ability to construct and maintain places of worship. The Cabinet sent the draft law to the military council in October. We urge the SCAF to endorse this provision as soon as possible. The Government of Egypt has promised to consider this measure for several years, including twice in the last five months. Numerous cases of sectarian violence in recent years have stemmed from disputes over church construction. The prompt adoption of this provision now would send a very strong signal of the government’s commitment to protect religious freedom. It would recognize the right of all Egyptians to freely build places of worship they need to conduct religious activities. As the government reviews this proposal it should take into account the concerns expressed over earlier drafts that the suggested multi-stage process of applying for permits to construct and repair churches is too convoluted, cedes too much authority to governors to grant permits, and imposes onerous restrictions on the number and location of houses of worship.

Finally, in the aftermath of the Maspiro violence, we welcome steps that are being taken by the Government of Egypt to reduce discrimination in the penal codes. On October 15, the SCAF issued a decree amending Egypt's penal code to prohibit discrimination on the basis of religion, gender, language, faith, or race. The decree also delineated prison sentences and specific fines for acts of discrimination, as well as failure to prevent discrimination. These included more severe penalties for government officials found to be complicit in discrimination.

The new penal code provisions bolster the Egyptian constitution’s ban on discrimination. Article 7 of the March 31, 2011, constitutional declaration states that "all citizens are equal before the law. They have equal public rights and duties without discrimination on the grounds of race, ethnic origin, language, religion, or creed." We urge the government to enforce these and other anti-discrimination laws and hold violators accountable so that all minorities, including Copts, can enjoy equal protection.

Like Egyptian Muslims, Egyptian Copts are concerned about their country’s future and their own place in it. In addition to security from sectarian violence and equal treatment under the law, they want equal representation in parliament and a proportional voice on the committee that will draft Egypt’s new constitution. Like moderate Egyptian Muslims, the vast majority of whom support religious freedom, Copts and other religious minorities consider themselves full partners in a new Egypt.

As Secretary Clinton said last week, “If – over time – the most powerful political force in Egypt remains a roomful of unelected officials, they will have planted the seeds for future unrest, and Egyptians will have missed a historic opportunity.” The door to real democratic change is only beginning to open. We hope Egyptians will walk through it together to a more peaceful and prosperous future.

Thank you.

Coptic Christians protest outside White House against violence in Egypt

The Washington Post
By Pamela Constable,
October 19, 2011

Hoisting homemade wooden crosses and photographs of bodies they said were crushed by tanks, hundreds of Coptic Christians rallied Wednesday in front of the White House to protest rising violence against minority Christians in Egypt and to demand that the Obama administration pressure Cairo to protect their rights.

The demonstrators, mostly Egyptian immigrants who traveled in buses from as far as New York and Chicago, included black-robed Coptic orthodox priests and families who had lost relatives in recent violence in Egypt, including the New Year’s Eve bombing of a church and a bloody clash Oct. 9 between protesters and army forces in Cairo that left 27 people dead.

“It is like a horrible nightmare. We watch on TV and see our people being run over by tanks,” said Mary Wassef, 66, who took a bus with friends from her church in northern New Jersey. “This is my church and my homeland. But now they want to force all Christians to convert or leave. If you hang a cross in your car, they pull you out and smash you to pieces.”

Christians in Egypt are a deeply rooted minority of about 10 million in a largely Muslim society of 81 million. Long-simmering tensions between the two groups have escalated since January, when a popular uprising in Cairo led to the fall of longtime ruler Hosni Mubarak but left the country in a state of political turmoil.

Many Christians in the Egyptian American diaspora of about half a million, scattered across a dozen states, have expressed concern that radical Islamist groups are seeking to dominate the post-revolutionary scene and to turn Egypt into a Sunni theocracy. Some placards at the rally Wednesday warned of an “Islamic jihad” against Christians.

The demonstrators also expressed fear that the Egyptian army, a longtime bulwark of Mubarak’s power, is becoming a repressive force against Christians. Many held up bloody photos of crushed torsos and limbs, which they said had been deliberately run over by tanks Oct. 9. Hundreds chanted “shame on the army” and called for the ouster of its national commander, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi.

“We Christians have faced Islamic oppression for 1,400 years, but now it is getting much more ugly,” said Ghada Nasr, 35, a small business owner from Newark, Del., whose parents live in Egypt. “The army should be protecting people, not crushing them. Our religion is peaceful, but it is time for us to act.”

Traditionally, leaders of the Coptic church in Egypt have tried to avoid provoking Egyptian authorities. The rally Wednesday was peaceful, and protesters interspersed chants for justice with hymns calling for God’s mercy in Arabic, English and ancient Coptic. Organizers said the presence of numerous senior Coptic priests — several gray-bearded, one in a wheelchair — had the blessing of their orthodox pope in Cairo.

“We need an Egyptian Martin Luther King to lead our people to freedom,” said George Ibrahim, 66, a retired civil engineer who emigrated from Egypt in the 1940s and lives in Ashburn. Unlike Copts in Egypt, who have long been ostracized, many of those who came to the United States are well established, successful professionals. In the greater Washington area, many work for the federal government.

A major demand of the demonstrators was that the Obama administration, which has continued the long U.S. alliance with Egypt and provides it with hundreds of millions of dollars in financial aid each year, pressure Cairo by conditioning further assistance to improvements in human rights and religious freedom.

“If we are calling them an ally, then we should not be paying with U.S. taxpayers’ money for bullets and weapons that are being used to oppress Christians,” said Michael Ruzek, 30, a medical doctor from New Jersey who attended the rally. Protesters placed a row of black wooden coffins along the sidewalk in front of the White House.

An advocacy group called Coptic Solidarity, which helped organize the rally, also called for an impartial investigation into the Oct. 9 violence, prosecution of official perpetrators, and full enactment of a bill that Congress passed in July that would create a U.S. envoy to the Middle East for religious minorities.

The circumstances of the Oct. 9 clashes in Cairo, in which Christian and Muslim protesters were involved in hours of battles with police and troops, remain confused. The day after the incident, White House spokesman Jay Carney said that President Obama was “deeply concerned” about the violence and “believes that the rights of minorities, including Copts, must be respected,” but he stopped short of blaming the government and called for “restraint on all sides.”

Why Egypt Is Descending Into Sectarian Strife And Lawlessness

Grace Wyler
May 17, 2011

Nearly 100 days after the fall of President Hosni Mubarek, the fate of Egypt's Arab Spring uprising remains unclear. Recent attacks against Egypt's Coptic Christian community that left hundreds dead highlight the insecurity and sectarian violence that has clouded the spirit of the Tahrir Square revolution.

Blogging for the New York Review of Books, Yasmine El Rashidi gives the most illuminating report we've read so far of Egypt's descent into sectarianism and the factors in play during Egypt's chaotic political transition.

In her eyewitness account, El Rashidi points out that the attacks against Coptic Christians reflect longstanding discrimination against the Copts, which account for about 10% of Egypt's population. Under Mubarek, persecution against the Copts subsided and conditions improved. At the same time, however, his regime was increasingly lenient towards Egypt's Salafist sect.

She writes:

"Since Mubarak’s resignation on February 11, hardline Salafis —who were kept under tight control by the former regime—have become vocal opponents of the church. Although they command only a small fraction of the followers of the mainstream Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafis’ brand of purist Islam is popular among some in conservative and working class districts, where there is growing resentment that the revolution hasn’t brought any tangible benefits...In some areas, Salafi Sheikhs have been using their Friday sermons to incite violence against Copts, whom they regard as infidels, and preach against democracy, which they say is not compatible with their goal of establishing an Islamic State."

But while Salafists have been the most obvious instigators of the recent attacks on Egypt's Coptic churches, El Rashidi notes that a broader variety of groups appear to have a hand in encouraging the violence.

El Rashidi concludes that a confluence of interests - including the ruling military council's desire to consolidate power, radical Islamists attempts impose sharia law and elements of the ancien regime looking to foment instability - have created an extremely insecure situation for Egypt's minorities.

In the face of growing economic uncertainty and political chaos, the situation is likely to get much worse.

Cairo mob brutally assaulted CBS reporter Lara Logan

By Michael Winter, USA TODAY
Feb 15, 2011

A mob in Tahrir Square brutally beat and sexually assaulted CBS News' chief foreign correspondent, Lara Logan, who was covering Friday's celebration of the departure of former president Hosni Mubarak, the network says. She is in a U.S. hospital recovering.

CBS says Logan, who was reporting for 60 Minutes, was surrounded by more than 200 people "whipped into frenzy." She then became separated from her TV crew and security and then suffered a "brutal and sustained sexual assault and beating." She was saved by a group of women and about 20 Egyptian soldiers, and reconnected with her colleagues CBS says. Saturday she flew back to the United States and is now in a hospital. The network said it would have no further comment.

The Washington Post notes that 39-year-old Logan, who joined CBS in 2002, is the mother of two young children. She met her husband, Joe Burkett, a defense contractor, in Baghdad while covering the war.

The attack highlights the risks female journalists face, The Atlantic's Garance Franke-Ruta writes.

Most mainstream American news outlets have a policy of not naming the survivors of sexual assault and it is hard to imagine that CBS would have issued this statement, which landed like a thunderbolt in the close-knit media world, without Logan's permission. That makes her one very brave woman, as news of the attack ricocheted across Twitter and newspapers with lightning speed. 


Bomb Kills 21, Injures 79 at Coptic New Year's Mass in Alexandria, Egypt

By Alaa Shahine and Mahmoud Kassem - Jan 1, 2011


At least 21 people were killed and 79 wounded when a bomb exploded outside a Coptic Christian church in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria in the deadliest terrorist attack in Egypt since at least 2006.

The blast occurred after midnight as worshipers were leaving a New Year’s service, damaging the church, a nearby mosque and cars on the street, the Interior Ministry said in a statement on its website. “Foreign elements” appear to have been responsible for the blast, the ministry said, adding that it has increased security around churches nationwide “in light of the escalating threats from al-Qaeda to many countries.”

Al-Qaeda’s branch in Iraq said in November it would attack Christian targets after it claimed Egypt’s Coptic Church was holding two Christian women who had converted to Islam. The Church has denied this charge. No group has claimed responsibility for today’s blast.

The attack bears the “fingerprints” of al-Qaeda, said Amr El-Shobaki, an expert on Islamist groups at the Cairo-based Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. “It was either successful in planting a cell in Egypt or recruited individuals to carry out a single operation,” he said.

“This will deepen the tension between Muslims and Christians in Egypt, El-Shobaki said in a phone interview. Confrontations between the two communities have increased for several years.

‘Cut Off the Hand’

Analysts have previously said that they didn’t see signs of an organized presence in Egypt by Islamic extremist groups such as al Qaeda, whose top deputy leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, is Egyptian.

Police waged a war with Islamist militants, mainly in southern Egypt, during the 1990s. In 1997, militants killed more than 60 tourists in the ancient city of Luxor, sparking a security crackdown that brought attacks to a halt.

That respite ended with a series of bombings from 2004 to 2006 targeting resorts in the Sinai peninsula, killing more than 100 Egyptian and foreign tourists. The three attacks in Sinai, which police blamed on a previously unknown local group, occurred on the eve of national holidays. More than 20 people died in a 2006 bombing in the resort of Dahab, a year after more than 60 were killed in a similar incident in Sharm El-Sheikh.

The explosion in Alexandria was likely carried out by a suicide bomber who was also killed in the blast, the Interior Ministry said.

Suicide Bomber

“It has been confirmed that the epicenter of the blast wasn’t in one of the cars or the road, which makes it likely that the device was carried by a suicide man who was killed with the rest,” the ministry said.

President Hosni Mubarak, in a televised speech today, vowed to find those responsible for the attack. “We will cut off the hand of terrorism,” he said.

“You are making a grave mistake if you think that you will be spared the punishment of Egyptians,” Mubarak said, addressing the perpetrators.

The blast badly damaged other cars on the street, television footage showed. Scores of Copts, encircled by security forces, gathered before the church to protest the attack.

In January 2010, six Christians were killed in a drive-by shooting outside a church in southern Egypt, and in November police killed a protester during clashes with Copts triggered by a halt to the construction of a church.


Copts account for about 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 80 million people. The Coptic Orthodox Church was founded in Alexandria in the first century by Mark, one of the apostles of Jesus. After an Arab army conquered Egypt in the seventh century, Islam gradually became the country’s dominant religion.

Tensions between the two communities, reported in the government-controlled and independent press, have been building for several years. In 2004, Christians in Cairo claimed that the wife of a Coptic priest was forced to convert to Islam. After a riot in which 50 people were injured, the government ordered her returned to her Coptic family. In 2005, Muslims in Alexandria demonstrated against a DVD in which a Coptic youth converts to Islam and then changes his mind.

In late 2008, riots erupted in Ain Shams, a district of Cairo, after Copts renovated a former underwear factory and held mass there.

Egypt, set to hold presidential election in September, relies on tourism as a key source for foreign currency along with foreign direct investment and revenue from the Suez Canal.

Tourism accounts for 13 percent of jobs in the Arab country. The government aims to attract 16 million tourists in 2011, bringing in $14 billion in revenue, Tourism Minister Zoheir Garranah said in an interview in October.

“If there is any negative impact on tourism it will be in the short-term,” Alia Mamdouh, an economist at Cairo-based investment bank CI Capital, said by telephone.

Egypt Cuts a Deal: Christians Fed to Muslim 'Lions'

by Raymond Ibrahim

Hudson New York
October 18, 2010

A prominent Egyptian, Muhammad Salim al-Awwa, ex-secretary general of the International Union for Muslim Scholars, appeared on Al Jazeera on September 15, and, in a wild tirade, accused the Copts of "stocking arms and ammunition in their churches and monasteries" — arms imported from Israel, no less, as "Israel is in the heart of the Coptic Cause" — and "preparing to wage war against Muslims."

He warned that if nothing is done, the "country will burn," and urged Muslims to "counteract the strength of the [Coptic] Church." Al-Awwa further charged that Egypt's security forces cannot enter the monasteries to investigate for weapons — an amazing assertion, considering that Coptic monasteries are not only at the mercy of the state, but easy prey to Islamist/Bedouin attacks.

Needless to say, these remarks have inflamed Muslim passions, not to mention paranoia, against Egypt's Christians, who make up approximately 12% of the population. To make matters worse, right on the heels of al-Awwa's "monastery-conspiracy-theory," Islamist leaders began to circulate baseless rumors that the Church and Pope Shenouda III "kidnap" Coptic women, who willingly convert to Islam, and then trap the women in desert monasteries, "torturing" and "re-indoctrinating" them back to Christianity — even when the women in question publicly insist they never converted to Islam.

Due to all these allegations, since last month there have been at least ten mass demonstrations in Egypt — most numbering in the thousands — condemning the Copts, the Coptic Church, and Pope Shenouda. The "Front of Islamic Egypt" issued a statement promising the Copts a "bloodbath." Most recently, on October 8, Muslim demonstrators chanted "Shenouda, just wait, we will dig your grave with our own hands," while burning the 86 year-old pope's effigy.

At the very least, the usually intrusive Mubarak regime could have easily dispelled the absurd rumor that Coptic monks, among Egypt's most humble figures, were stockpiling weapons for an imaginary coup d'état in Egypt, by formally investigating and clearing the monasteries of the charge. The same intervention could also have aborted the ludicrous rumors that the Pope is kidnapping and torturing Coptic women who freely convert to Islam — an especially odd rumor, considering that the reverse is true: In Egypt, Christian women are regularly kidnapped and compelled to embrace Islam.

There appears to be no one to stop it — not even those most accountable: America's friend and ally, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and his government.

Worse, recent events indicate that the Mubarak regime is intentionally inciting Egypt's Muslims against the Copts.

To further exacerbate matters, on September 26, Al Azhar, a formal state body of Egypt, denounced a remark on Koran 5:17, which accuses Christians of being "infidels," made by a Coptic clergyman at an internal meeting on dogma, as "blasphemous." Moreover, it took this opportunity to state formally that citizenship rights in Egypt "are conditional on respect for the Islamic identity" of Egypt, thereby reversing any modern progress made regarding Egyptian equality, and reinforcing the Copts' historical role as dhimmis.. Pope Shenouda was further compelled to publicly apologize "if our Muslim brothers' feelings were hurt."

All this has been taking place in a nation where Christian and Jewish scriptures are systematically denounced as fabricated. Mere weeks earlier, a well known publishing house in Egypt issued a book dedicated to "proving" that Christians had forged the Bible. Such double standards are well entrenched: the Coptic clergyman had privately remarked on a Koranic verse, whereas the Egyptian government openly interferes with Christian doctrine, while preventing Muslims from converting to Christianity, in accordance to sharia's ridda, or apostasy, laws. For example, Mohammad Hegazy is one of many Egyptians who tried formally to change his religion from Muslim to Christian on his I.D. card —in Egypt, people are, Gestapo-like, categorized by their religion — only to be denied by the Egyptian court. (Many other such anecdotes abound.)

Considering the citizenship rights Copts enjoyed in the early-to-mid-20th century, how did things come to this pass? Much of this reversion can be traced to Mubarak's predecessor, Anwar Sadat, who altered Egypt's Constitution — by adding Article 2, "sharia is the principle source of legislation" — only to be rewarded, ironically, with assassination by the Islamist "Frankenstein monster" he had empowered. Since then, there has been a tacit agreement between the government and the Islamists. As Youssef Ibrahim puts it, the agreement "turned over to Islamists control in media, education, and government administrations in return for allowing Mr. Mubarak's rule to go on unchallenged, setting the stage … for his son, Gamal, to succeed him. As part of the deal, [Mubarak] agreed to feed Egypt's Christians to the growing Islamic beast."

The Copts now find themselves in a dire situation. Magdi Khalil, a human rights activist at the forefront of the "Coptic question," states that "Egypt is on the verge of chaos and change of regime, and there is a plan for Copts to pay the price of this predicted chaos, by directing the surplus violence, hate and barbarism towards them." This redirection onto the Copts is obvious even in subtle things: aside from the habitual anti-Copt indoctrination that goes on in mosques — all of the aforementioned demonstrations occurred immediately after Friday's mosque prayers — Egypt's state run public education system also marginalizes, if not ostracizes, the Copts (see, for example, Adel Guindy's "The Talibanization of Education in Egypt.")

More obvious proof of the government's complicity is the fact that, not only has it not prevented or dispersed the increasingly rabid demonstrations against the Copts — the way it viciously and unequivocally does whenever any protests are directed against itself — but Egyptian security, as Magdi Khalil affirmed in a phone conversation, actually facilitates, and sometimes participates, in these mass demonstrations. After all, Islamists who publicly call for the death of the Pope do so, writes Ibrahim Eissa, "knowing quite well that State Security will not touch them, since demonstrations are directed against the Pope and not the President, the Church and not the inheritance issue [Gamal Mubarak as successor of his father]. Those who go out in Jihad against 'inheritance,' democracy and election fraud are beaten mercilessly by security forces, but those who go out to incite sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians believe …that they are the friends and 'buddies' of the police and the State Security."

For centuries, the Copts — Egypt's Christian, indigenous inhabitants — have been subject to persecution, discrimination, humiliation, and over all subjugation in their homeland (etymologically, "Copt" simply means "Egyptian"). In the medieval era, such treatment was a standard aspect of sharia's dhimmi codes -- for dhimmis: conditionally tolerated religious minorities -- first ratified under Caliph Omar in the 7th century and based on Koran 9:29.

Conversely, during the colonial era and into the mid 20th century, as Egypt experimented with Westernization and nationalism, religious discrimination was markedly subdued. Today, however, as Egypt all but spearheads the Islamist movement — giving the world Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Aymen Zawahiri in the process. As Egypt reverts to its medieval character, the Copts find themselves again in a period of severe persecution.

As history teaches, whenever a majority group casts all its woes onto a minority group, tragedy often follows. This is especially so when the majority group in question begins taking on an Islamist—that is, intolerant, violent, and medieval — character. Yet if Egypt's "secular" government and its U.S. ally are willing to sacrifice the Coptic scapegoat to appease the ever-burgeoning Islamist monster it has been nurturing for four decades, to whom can Egypt's Christians look for relief?

Raymond Ibrahim is associate director of the Middle East Forum, author of The Al Qaeda Reader, and guest lecturer at the National Defense Intelligence College.

Muslim Attack Injures 23 Coptic Christians

By Ethan Cole

Christian Post Reporter

Mar. 13 2010

Twenty-three Coptic Christians were injured by Muslim extremists Friday after an attack on a church community center, said an Egyptian Bishop.

The attack occurred after a sermon by a radical sheikh and lasted 10 hours before security forces put a stop to it, said Bishop Bejemy to The Associated Press on Saturday. The group of young Muslim men threw firebombs at the Coptic center and at nearby homes in Marsa Matruh, a seaport city in northern Egypt.

According to Egyptian officials, assailants were angry about a new fence erected around the center.

The attack on Copts in Marsa Matruh took place the same day the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom issued a statement condemning the Egyptian justice system for not prosecuting violence against Copts.

An Egyptian judge recently acquitted four Muslim men of the murder of a Coptic man. USCIRF called it “the latest example in a growing pattern of instances where individuals have not been brought to justice after committing violent acts against Christians and their property.”

Coptic Christian Farouk Attallah was murdered on Oct. 19, 2009. Attallah’s Christian son was involved in a romantic relationship with a Muslim girl. The Muslim men planned to murder the son, but when they could not find him they killed his father. Despite reported witnesses, the court said there was insufficient evidence and acquitted the men.

“This is one of more than a dozen incidents USCIRF has followed in the last year or so in which Coptic Christians have been the targets of violence,” said USCIRF Chair Leonard Leo, who led a USCIRF fact-finding delegation to Egypt in January. “This upsurge in violence and the failure to prosecute those responsible fosters a growing climate of impunity."

“We call on the government to appeal the verdict in the Attallah murder and bring the perpetrators to justice,” Leo said.

Since 2002, Egypt has been on the USCIRF “Watch List” for its serious religious freedom violations, including widespread problems of discrimination, intolerance, and other human rights violations against members of religious minorities.

According to Egypt’s constitution, Islam is the “religion of the state” and the country’s “principle source of legislation.”

Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s population, complain that they are discriminated against in all aspects of social life, from education to government representation. They also voice grievance over the law that requires them to have high-level government permission in order to repair or rebuild churches. Even though they make such requests for permission, Christians are rarely, if ever, granted the right to repair or build churches. Muslims, however, are allowed to freely build mosques without such government permission.


Fragile Muslim-Christian peace crumbles in Egypt

29 September 2008

By Jack Shenker in Cairo


IN THE shadows of the Moqattam cliffs that tower over Cairo's eastern fringes, Safwat Nazeem is picking his way through tens of thousands of empty plastic bottles.

Safwat, like his father before him, is one of the Zabaleen, Egypt's invisible army of refuse collectors who gather the urban waste around them and welcome it into their homes. Their neighbourhood, known as Garbage City, overflows with rubbish all waiting to be sifted and recycled. And after a recent spate of national violence and media intrigue, the Zabaleen have become a community on the defensive.

Like the vast majority of Garbage City's residents, Safwat is a Coptic Christian – part of an eight million-strong religious minority in Egypt that predates the presence of Islam in the country by over 500 years.

In the past months, the country's fragile sectarian balance has been rocked by violent clashes, accusations of discrimination on both sides and rumours of "special interests" spreading disruption from abroad.

In late May, four Christians were gunned down in a Cairene jewellery shop. The government dismissed it as a robbery, neglecting to explain why nothing was taken. Pope Shenouda, the ageing patriarch of the Coptic Church, opted to stay quiet and maintained his silence even when a similar attack took place on a Coptic jeweller in Alexandria a few days later.

But he was forced to speak out on 31 May when a serene Coptic outpost, the 1,700-year-old monastery of Abo Fana, was besieged by dozens of Muslims following a land dispute with local farmers. Although the Abo Fana controversy occurred 300 miles south of the Egyptian capital, its impact was felt throughout the country.

Copts have consistently complained that archaic building regulations hamper the repair or expansion of their churches, strangling the ancient faith with bureaucracy. They also claim they are denied access to key positions in government because of their religion.

Muslim commentators have argued that most Copts are better off than their Muslim counterparts, and that the Christian faithful are being manipulated by external forces using the guise of "minority rights" to interfere with Egypt's internal affairs. Critics on both sides of the divide agree that the potential for sectarian violence is growing.

Safwat shares the fears of many Christians that the changing political landscape in Egypt is threatening his way of life.

Glancing up at a figurine of the Virgin Mary, he sighs: "Islam is the solution is their slogan. But there is no place for Christians in that, no place for anyone else."


Europeans kidnapped in Egyptian desert near Sudan


CAIRO, Egypt (AP) — Kidnappers have seized 11 European tourists and eight Egyptians during a Sahara desert safari to Gilf al-Kebir, a plateau famed for its prehistoric cave paintings, Egyptian officials said Monday.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said in New York that the group had been freed unharmed Monday, and a military official confirmed their release. But Egyptian officials in Cairo and New York later said they had not yet been freed and Aboul Gheit's announcement to reporters that they had been let go was based on incorrect information.

The five Germans, five Italians and one Romanian were seized Friday along with their Egyptian guides and drivers while camping near the Sudanese border, Egyptian Tourism Minister Zoheir Garana said before the release was announced. The kidnappers took the captives, including two Italians in their 70s, into Sudan, he said.

Only a few intrepid visitors make the daunting trek of more than a week in 4X4s across the desert to the Gilf al-Kebir, which lies near Egypt's borders with Libya and Sudan beyond a vast plain of dunes known as the Great Sand Sea. It is one of the most arid places on Earth.

The plateau has become increasingly popular among adventure and eco-tourists drawn by the stark desert landscapes and the prehistoric paintings in caves that dot the plateau. They include the "Cave of the Swimmers," immortalized in the 1996 movie "The English Patient." The cave features 10,000-year-old paintings of people swimming, a hallmark of a time when scientists believe parts of the Sahara were covered by lakes and rivers.

The unpopulated region is a crossroads for ethnic African tribesmen — including smugglers — from Libya, Sudan and even Chad, further south. It borders Sudan's Darfur region, where raging conflicts have given rise to armed bandits who have become notorious for robberies and hijackings.

Ismail Khairat, a spokesman for Egypt's U.N. mission, said the tourists have not been released. The information that Aboul Gheit relied on when he announced their release earlier "was based on primary information and it was not correct," Khairat said.

"They are not yet released so far and the government is doing their best to release them," he told The Associated Press.

Rady said the abduction was not connected to Islamic militants, who have previously attacked tourists in southern Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. "This is a criminal act. They are seeking a ransom," he said.

Garana said the tour company that organized the trip negotiated with the kidnappers, who demanded up to $6 million in ransom. He said the German government was involved in the talks but the Egyptian government was not. Germany's Foreign Ministry said only that it had formed a "crisis team" on the abduction.

The kidnapping was only discovered because the Egyptian owner of the tour company, who was on the trip, was able to call his German wife by mobile phone, Garana told state television. The group included eight Egyptians, he said.

The tour owner told his wife that a group of armed men, who appeared "African," drove up to the group while they were setting up their tents, an Egyptian security official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to talk to the media. It was not clear when that phone call took place.

Italy's Foreign Ministry said the owner called his wife in Cairo again on Monday night and told her their captors had taken the group to Sudan.

The kidnapped Italians included three women and two men from the Turin area, Italy's ANSA news agency said. Two of the Italian tourists were in their 70s and one was 68 years old, said Italy's RAI state TV.

A tour guide who operates in the area said colleagues in the Western Desert told him the kidnappers were tribesmen. Mohammed Marzouk said there have been previous robberies in the area, most recently in May, when tribesmen seized two tour company SUVs during a desert trip.

Tourism is Egypt's biggest foreign currency earner. The industry was devastated in the 1990s when Islamic militants waged a campaign of violence, including attacks on tourists. The campaign was suppressed in a fierce crackdown by the government of President Hosni Mubarak and the industry has since been rebuilt.

Since 2004, attacks on foreigners shifted to the beach resorts of the Sinai peninsula in northeastern Egypt, with a total of 121 people, including tourists, killed in a series of bombings.

But there have been no major attacks in the capital, Cairo — home of the Pyramids — or the main antiquities sites in the south in more than a decade. There have been no known Islamic militant attacks in Egypt's Western Desert, where the Gilf al-Kabir is located.

The Gilf al-Kabir, some 550 miles southwest of Cairo, is one of the last frontiers in Egypt, explored by a few Egyptian and European expeditions in the early 20th Century. The Cave of the Swimmers was discovered in a niche in the cliff face in 1933 by Hungarian explorer Laslo Almasy. Since then, the Gilf has largely been ignored until it gained the recent notice of adventure travelers.

The Gilf is a giant limestone and sandstone plateau — bigger than Delaware or the island of Cyprus and nearly 1,000 feet high at some points. It is separated from the rest of Egypt by a vast sea of sand dunes.

The plateau is creased with wadis, or dry river valleys, producing dramatic landscapes of dunes washing up against high black cliff faces. The wadis are pockmarked with caves holding one of the richest troves of Neolithic cave art in Africa. Rock faces are covered with red and black paintings of lions, gazelles, bullocks, giraffes and people hunting, as well as silhouettes of hands. Tour guides still boast of discovering new cave paintings.

Tourists are required to get permits from the military to visit the site and must travel in tour groups with at least one security guard. The tour, done in desert 4X4s, can take more than 12 days.

But, as in other places, expanding adventure tourism may be moving closer to zones of instability. Earlier this year, the annual Dakar Rally through the Western Sahara was canceled because of al-Qaida threats of attacks.

Associated Press reporters Paul Schemm and Katarina Kratovac in Cairo and John Heilprin at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Violence mars Egyptian referendum

Demonstrators opposing 'sham' referendum beaten by pro-Mubarak supporters
Compiled by Daily Star staff

May 26, 2005

CAIRO: Plain clothes supporters of Egyptian President hosni Mubarak beat up groups of anti Mubarak demonstrators as voting in a national referendum was expected to clear the way for Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential elections. Critics consider the referendum a sham, saying the rules being laid down ensure Mubarak will have no serious challengers and that his ruling National Democratic Party won't lose its grip on power. The measure was expected to pass easily.

Several opposition groups called a boycott of the vote, and some organized demonstrations. One was canceled amid heavy security and warnings that protests would not be tolerated.

But scattered anti-Mubarak demonstrations took place in defiance of the warnings, some on the margins of pro-Mubarak street rallies, with scattered reports of violence. Many gatherings were broken up by force.

In one, more than a dozen members of the anti-Mubarak movement Kefaya, or "Enough" were beaten by pro-Mubarak gangs. The protesters tried to seek police protection but a high-ranking officer ordered lawmen to withdraw and allowed the attackers to set upon the demonstrators.

Elsewhere, 150 pro-Mubarak protesters attacked Kefaya members, belting them with wooden sticks used to hold Mubarak banners. Demonstrators scattered, with some taking refuge inside the press syndicate building.

Another clash occurred when demonstrators placed Kefaya stickers onto placards emblazoned with Mubarak's face and waved them in the air, chanting: "Leave, leave Mubarak." Plainclothes state security investigators were beating, groping and verbally harassing demonstrators, particularly women.

About a dozen people, mostly women, were violently cornered and surrounded by nightstick-toting plainclothes police. Some began beating demonstrators.

A senior government official said he was "dismayed" by reports of violence, but said there was no intentional harassment of protesters. He asked not to be identified.

Kefaya spokesman Abdel-Halim Qandil said two Kefaya members were hurt; it wasn't clear how badly. Police said 10 demonstrators were arrested.

"This is the first time this sort of beating and humiliation has taken place here in Cairo," Qandil said, but added it has been a problem in provincial areas away from the media.

At polling stations, "no" voters were hard to find, but it wasn't clear whether their absence was due to boycott calls or lack of interest in a measure sure to pass. Many supporters of the measure weren't clear what they were agreeing to.

"Of course I would say yes, because the president is so committed to serving us that he doesn't sleep," said Mohammad Ahmad, a 42-year-old shopkeeper.

Outside Cairo, there were reports of light turnout with many voters saying they were urged to vote or suffer penalties.

"I voted to avoid any government penalty," said Ahmad Hussain Mohammad, a government worker in Sohag, 390 kilometers south of Cairo, who said his colleagues told him that he would be fined if he didn't cast a ballot.

Mubarak has led Egypt since soon after President Anwar Sadat was assassinated in 1981, reinstalled every six years in the yes-no, single-candidate referendums he is asking the Constitution to end. Mubarak hasn't formally announced he will run again but is widely expected to do so.

Egypt's opposition leaders are known in certain circles, but except for the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, are relatively unknown to most Egyptians. The Brotherhood, the country's oldest and largest Islamic movement, is believed to have hundreds of thousands of supporters nationwide.

The Interior Ministry has said about 32.5 million registered citizens were expected to vote. Results are expected today. Egypt's semiofficial Middle East News Agency said preliminary results may be available later Wednesday. - AP

Deaths increase in Egypt bombings

Official arrest 35, but their links to blasts remain unclear.

The New York Times

Sunday, July 24, 2005

SHARM EL-SHEIK, EGYPT – The death toll from three bombs at this Red Sea resort rose sharply Saturday. Egyptian authorities said at least 90 people had been killed in an attack strikingly similar to one that tore apart resorts farther up the coast of the Sinai peninsula nine months ago.

The latest attacks, the worst in Egypt, ripped through an upscale hotel, a local market and a parking lot beginning shortly after 1 a.m., a synchronized series of blasts that witnesses and authorities said had occurred about five minutes apart.

Citing police officials, Reuters reported that 35 people had been arrested Saturday, though it was not clear if they were suspected of close ties to the bombers or whether it was part of a general roundup.

Egypt's interior minister, Habib el-Adly, who visited the blast sites on Saturday, said those behind the October explosions in Taba "could be linked" to the ones here.

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak visited the injured in a hospital, and later addressed the nation on television, vowing to track down those responsible. World leaders quickly condemned the bombings.

"This cowardly, criminal act is aimed at undermining Egypt's security and stability and harming its people and its guests," Mubarak said. "This will only increase our determination in chasing terrorism."

The dead and injured included significant numbers of European tourists and Egyptians, with at least 240 people injured, said Essam Sharif, director of emergency medicine in Sharm el-Sheik. The foreign casualties included Spaniards, British, French, Italians, Qataris and Kuwaitis.

The first of the three explosions Saturday was apparently set off by a suicide bomber in a car on a street between the town's Old Market and a new shopping center, killing several people.

The second and worst of the bombings took place along the main strip of beachfront hotels when a bomber drove a small truck through a plate glass window and into the lobby of the Ghazala Gardens hotel. The entrance of the two-story building was reduced to rubble.

The third and least damaging of the bombs exploded in a bag in a parking lot where there were relatively few people. Sharm el-Sheik hosts many tourists this time of year, but the bombing sites were less than packed because of the late hour.

The bombings come about nine months after the attacks in Taba and Nuweiba, north of Sharm, and just south of Israel's border, which also included three closely timed explosions.

Those bombs were aimed at popular sites for vacationing Israelis - among the only places in the Arab world where Israeli tourists traveled in large numbers. Egypt allowed Israeli ambulances and military units to cross the border at Taba to help with the rescue and forensic efforts.

While Saturday's bombings were similar in style, the target was somewhat different. The bombers attacked the largest resort city in a country that is heavily dependent on tourists from Europe and other Arab nations. The attacks could scare away visitors as happened in the 1990s with a previous round of terrorism.

The White House issued a statement saying that "the United States condemns in the strongest possible terms the barbaric terrorist attacks in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, that killed and injured scores of innocent civilians from many nations and religious faiths."

The statement said that President George W. Bush spoke with Mubarak on Saturday and offered his personal condolences and the support of the American people.

Egypt and Mubarak have been fiercely criticized by al-Qaida and its adherents for supporting American policy, as well as for its peace treaty with Israel. Egypt has also tried to crush or severely restrict Islamic political movements.


Egypt city tense after violence

By Michael Slackman The New York Times

ALEXANDRIA, Egypt Riot police forces armed with shotguns guarded a Coptic Christian church here over the weekend after Muslim protesters tried to storm the building in a demonstration that was broken up when security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets into the crowd.

Three people were killed and many more wounded Friday in what officials called the worst case of sectarian violence to strike this Mediterranean city in recent memory.

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Friday, apparently angry over a play that was performed two years ago in the church and that was recently distributed on videodisc.

Although few people interviewed Saturday said they actually had seen the play or the DVD, the word on the street was it was anti-Islamic.

The streets remained tense Saturday, and many people warned that foreigners were not welcome. The mood in the city was sour and explosive.

"People are very, very provoked," said Ahmed Ali Mahmoud, 25, a pharmacist whose shop is opposite St. George's Coptic Church. "They are boiling."

While relations between faiths are often tolerant, if tense, in Egypt, there have been signs recently of growing strain between Egypt's Coptic Christians and Muslims.

It was unclear who was giving out the DVD, and church officials, as well as local residents, speculated that its distribution might somehow be connected to the coming parliamentary elections, where aggravated sectarian tensions could help certain candidates.

"We believe that this problem was raised in light of the coming parliamentary elections," a church statement said.

Alexandria, an ancient city founded by Alexander the Great, two hours north of Cairo, is home to one of the country's larger Coptic communities.

Of Egypt's 74 million people, more than 90 percent are Muslim, mostly Sunnis, and about 8 percent to 10 percent are Christian, mostly Copts.

Islam is the official state religion, and all legislation is supposed to be based on the Islamic code.


In Egypt, election tests U.S. push for democracy Analysis

Vote could put banned group in power


November 28, 2005

CAIRO, Egypt -- For months, the Bush administration has said that it is serious about pushing for democracy in the Middle East. It's about to get a serious test of that resolve.

Egypt, the world's most populous Arab country, is suddenly roiling with a wide-open, combative election that seems certain to end with the country's main Islamic group, the banned Muslim Brotherhood, as a big winner.

The country's rulers, longtime U.S. allies, are starting to show signs of panic: Police have barred voters from polls, and thugs have attacked Brotherhood supporters in recent days in an apparent effort to blunt the group's growing momentum.

The final round of voting is Thursday, but Brotherhood loyalists -- who run as independents -- have already increased their seats in parliament fivefold. That's not enough to unseat the ruling party, but is still seen as a slap to President Hosni Mubarak.

In some ways, despite the violence, the process is going as well as President George W. Bush could hope. Nine months after Mubarak took the first steps toward reform under U.S. pressure, it is indisputably clear that Egyptians hanker for choice and change.

Yet two things about the election could prove deeply worrisome for the West:

·  One is the Brotherhood itself, and what it might do now that it has gained enough power to influence government policy in a secular system it opposes.

·  The second is the turmoil Egypt likely would face during any transition, as Mubarak and his long-ruling elite struggle to decide whether to give up power, and if so, how much and how fast.

Even though Bush says it was hypocritical for the United States to forgo pressing democratic reform on authoritarian regimes such as those in Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia in return for support on other issues, Washington still needs a few Arab allies at a time when Al Qaeda loyalists are active, Iran is increasingly combative toward Israel and Iraq continues to be bloody.

A chaotic Egyptian government, torn by infighting, would be bad for the United States, as it would be unable or unwilling to help with Arab-Israeli peace or Iraqi reconciliation. Yet a U.S. retreat on democracy would reinforce the view of many Arabs who are suspicious of American motives.

So far, the Bush administration has stressed that it just wants a free and fair vote.

Still, there is American discomfort with the Brotherhood, a group that will almost certainly be less accommodating than Mubarak on issues involving Israel.

Some worry the Brotherhood's more-moderate stance -- it renounced violence in the 1970s and says it wants to create an Islamic nation through peaceful means -- is just a smoke screen.

In reality, many Egyptians who voted for the Brotherhood did so not because they want an Islamic government but to protest a Mubarak regime seen as widely corrupt.


Riots throw spotlight on a changing Egypt

Sectarian tension remains high in Egypt just a few days after widespread riots rocked the country. The deadly religious violence has pitted Christian and Muslim protesters against each other. The unrest has thrown the spotlight on the country, exposing deeper changes taking place there, not least with regards to the role of women in Egyptian society. Analysts, for example, say an increasing number of Muslim students are wearing veils.

"I wear the veil to be in accordance with my religion, to protect myself before God," said one student at the University of Cairo. Fighting for more rights is the New Woman Foundation, which says it has been subject to pressure from the police. According to the founder, Nawla Darwiche, women are denied a place in politics and the veil represents religious oppression.

She said: "It's a way of controlling a woman's body. It's like a chastity belt in the middle ages. It's like female circumcision which still exists in Egypt." However, other women, who belong to a group called Muslim Brotherhood, insist the veil has its place. Member Makarem Al Deiri was the only female Muslim candidate in the last elections.

She said: "We must enforce religious values at the heart of each family because this prevents youth delinquency and helps with their education." Georgette Sohbi belongs to the Coptic Christian minority in Egypt. She is one of only 10 women in parliament, nominated by President Mubarak.

She said: "If the Muslim Brotherhood takes power, they'll change the country's laws. I think there'd be violence between Coptic Christians and Muslims. Coptics refuse to be treated like second class citizens, without any rights." With regard to the country's future direction, observers say the role of religion is becoming increasingly important, especially with each side convinced they know which path is best.


Egypt a hub of crude anti-Semitic, anti-Western, violence enciting literature: Study

A Study by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center at the Center for Special Studies:

29 October 2006


Between December 21 and 31, 2005, the 17 th International Book Fair was held in Doha , Qatar , under the auspices of the Qatari ruler, sponsored by the National Council for Culture, Arts and Heritage of Qatar. Three hundred and fifty publishers from 17 Arab and Muslim countries had booths exhibiting over 65,000 titles in Arabic and foreign languages, some of it anti-Semitic literature published in Arab countries. Prominent in the anti-Semitic field were Syria, Lebanon and Egypt.

This follow-up Bulletin surveys a selection of anti-Semitic books published in Egypt between 2000 and 2006 and sold at the international book fair in Qatar . It includes information about the authors and publishers. Some of the publishing houses are large and well-known , which lends the literature an air of respectability .

The books published in Egypt include anti-Semitic texts which reflect great hostility toward Israel, the Jewish people and the West, and in effect justify the use of violence against them. The main themes appearing in the books are:

The contents of the books express anti-Semitism with principally Western sources, inspired particularly by The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. At the same time anti-Semitism based on Islamic sources is also present, although to a lesser degree. In addition, some of the authors are high-placed PhDs, which makes the literature more “respectable” because they are often interviewed by the Arab media and some of them are often quoted by the Arab Internet news sites. However, some of them are unknown and apparently some of them use pen names.

Making such literature available at the Doha International Book Fair clearly illustrates that Egypt continues as a center for the widespread distribution of hate literature in the Arab-Muslim world despite its peace treaty with Israel . 2 The Egyptian regime would seem to apply rigorous standards of censorship to subjects concerning its own internal security but avoids taking effective steps when the issue is incitement against Israel , the Jews and the liberal West.


Egypt Blogger Begins Prison Sentence For "Insulting" Islam ; Christians Attacked

Journal Chretien
February 27, 2007

CAIRO, EGYPT — A young Egyptian blogger who criticized Muslim violence against Coptic Christians was behind bars Friday, February 23, after being sentenced to four years imprisonment for "insulting" Islam, "inciting sectarian strife" and "defaming" President Hosni Mubarak with his Internet writings.

Abdel Kareem Nabil, a 22-year-old former student at Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, had been a vocal secularist and sharp critic of radical Muslims in his blog. Nabil, who used the blogger name Kareem Amer, often lashed out at Al-Azhar - the most prominent religious center in Sunni Islam - calling it "the university of terrorism" and accusing it of encouraging extremism.

Judge Ayman al-Akazi of a court in the city of Alexandria sentenced Nabil to three years in prison for "insulting Islam and the Prophet Muhammad" and "inciting sectarian strife" and another year for "insulting President" Mubarak.

He said Nabil insulted the Prophet Muhammad especially with a piece he wrote in 2005 after riots in which angry Muslim worshippers attacked a Coptic Christian church over a play deemed offensive to Islam.


"Muslims revealed their true ugly face and appeared to all the world that they are full of brutality, barbarism and inhumanity," Nabil wrote at the time. He called Muhammad and his 7th century followers, the Sahaba, "spillers of blood" for their teachings on warfare - a comment cited by the judge. However court observers also noted that the judge overlooked Nabil’s clarification of the comments. He said Muhammad was "great" but that his teachings on warfare and other issues should be viewed as a product of their times.

In other writings, he reportedly called Al-Azhar the "other face of the coin of [terror network] al-Qaida" and called for the university to be dissolved or turned into a secular institution. He also criticized President Mubarak, calling him "the symbol of tyranny."

Nabil’s lawyer, Ahmed Seif el-Islam, said he would appeal the verdict. He and human rights groups also warned that the sentencing could have "a negative impact on freedom of expression" in Egypt. "This sentence is yet another slap in the face of freedom of expression in Egypt," said Hassiba Hadj Sahraoui, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Program Director of human rights group Amnesty International (AI) in a statement to BosNewsLife.

"The Egyptian authorities must protect the peaceful exercise of freedom of expression, even if the views expressed might be perceived by some as offensive." The official said AI considers the blogger "a prisoner of conscience who is being prosecuted on account of the peaceful expression" of his views. AI urged Egypt to "repeal legislation that, in violation of international standards, stipulates prison sentences for acts which constitute nothing more than the peaceful exercise of the rights of freedom of expression, thought, conscience and religion."


Nabil, sitting in the defendant’s pen, did not react as the verdict was read and made no comments as he was led to a prison truck outside, eyewitnesses said. Seconds after the door was closed, an Associated Press agency reporter claimed to have heard "a slap from inside the truck and a scream."

Last year another Internet writer, Hala Helmy Botros, was forced to close down her blog Aqbat Bela Hodood, or ’Copts Without Borders’ about the plight of Copts and to stop writing on this subject for other websites. Botros, who is in her 40s, wrote under the pseudonym of Hala El-Masry and became the target of a judicial investigation and was banned from leaving the country, BosNewsLife learned.

Thursday’s sentencing of Nabil came amid growing religious tensions between Muslims and minority Christians in Egypt. This month police reportedly detained Christian families in Upper Egypt and forced them to deny arson attacks on their homes during a spate of anti-Christian violence last week.

Two Coptic Orthodox families said police detained them for 36 hours when they attempted to report a February 13 assault on their homes in Armant, 600 kilometers (373 miles) south of Cairo. The fires came five days after Muslim groups set four Christian-owned shops alight on February 9.

International media said reports of a love affair between a Christian man and Muslim woman sparked the violence, but local media said hostilities broke out over accusations that Christians were blackmailing Muslim women to convert. 


Law ends Christian/Muslim organ donation

Hamdi Al Sayed of the Egyptian Medical Association denies that a proposed law would prohibit organ donation between Muslims and non-Muslims. Critics fear further anti-Christian discrimination and violence.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

By Martin Barillas

The Egyptian Medical Association, through its spokesman on August 18, denied that a bill in the Egyptian parliament would discriminate between Christians and Muslims by prohibiting organ transplants between members of the two faiths. The Association supports the controversial measure. “This is all to protect poor Muslims from rich Christians who buy their organs and vice versa,” explained Hamdi Al Sayed – the director of the Medical Association. Under the bill, physicians who violate the proposed law would face retribution.

Al Sayed denied any sectarianism in the proposed law saying that “if some Copts are angered by the law then why is it that Muslims are not.” Even so, Al Sayed said that under the draft law, it’s not possible for a Coptic Christian to donate organs to a Muslim and vice versa simply because donations have been restricted to family members up to the fourth degree. Al Sayed continued “…it is degrading for both religions if lets say, a poor Christian has to sell his kidney to a rich Muslim, or a poor Muslim has to sell his kidney to a rich Christian. It is not right for either religion and that is why we made this law so we can stop organ trafficking.” Finally, Al Sayed continued, “It is not about trying to promote differences between religions but it’s just to minimize the trade of organs as much as we can.”

Speaking for Coptic Christians, Bishop Marcos said “We all have the same Egyptian blood, but if the reason for the measure is to end organ trafficking, we reject it because it may also occur between believers of the same religion.” For Bishop Marcos, the Association’s decision is “very grave” since it can lead to prohibiting blood donation between Christians and Muslims or prevent physicians from examining patients of religions other than their own. “We are afraid that in the future there will be hospitals for Christians and hospitals for Muslims,” said the bishop. Egyptian Christians currently make up approximately 10% of the nation as a whole, which has a population of more than 76 million.

Some Muslims have spoken against the move by the Medical Association. According to Abel Moti Bayumi, of the prestigious Al Azhar Center for Islamic Studies, the prohibition “could lead to discrimination between a Muslim and a Christian living in the same country.” Also, Sheikh Gamal Kotb - former Chairman of the Fatwa Committee – was quoted as saying that there is nothing in Islam that prevents Muslims from receiving or donating an organ transplant from either Muslim or non- Muslim.

For its part, the Egyptian Human Rights Union has brought suit before a court in Cairo against the physicians. Naguib Gibrael of the Human Rights Union believes that the measure “is discriminatory, since it violates human rights, the Constitution, and national unity.” Gibrael denounced the Muslim Brotherhood and its “strong Islamist control over the Medical Association.” Said Gibrael,”If the Medical Association does not annul the measure, there will be more conflict between Muslims and Christians.” The Muslim Brotherhood is the main opposition party in Egypt, which has been linked to Islamist movements worldwide.

During the 1990s, Egypt witnessed a wave of anti-Christian and anti-Western violence led by Islamist groups such as Gamaa Al Islamiya and Islamic Jihad which reaped a toll of some 1,300 people – many of them Coptic Christians – mostly in the southern part of the country. There have been more recent anti-Christian attacks: in June 2008, a monastery in Abu Fana was attacked and burned by Muslims, causing serious injuries to seven monks.

There has been a notable rift between prominent Muslim clerics in Egypt over organ donation. In 2007, the Grand Sheik of Al Azhar, Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, the leader of the most important center of learning in Sunni Islam, announced his willingness to donate his organs upon his death. This was contrary to the stated position of the Muslim cleric Sheik Mohammed Metwali al-Sharawi. Metawali Al-Sharawi has a popular television program on which he declared that since human organs are a gift from God, they should be neither donated nor replaced by Muslim believers.

There is an acute shortage of human organs donated in Egypt, prompting a lively black market. Concern has been expressed by the Egyptian Medical Association and others about “transplant tourists” – foreigners coming to Egyptian seeking transplants who may encourage the trafficking of human organs. In the 1990s, the association moved to limit or eliminate kidney transplant surgery for foreigners coming to Egypt. For Al Sayed of the Egyptian Medical Association, the intention of the proposed law is the elimination of organ trafficking. “If organ donations are from the third or fourth degree of the family then there is less of a chance of a trade happening as it’s not likely that family members will sell organs to each other,” said Al Sayed.

“Egypt is different from other places,” said Al Sayed. “No one really comes up and says they want to donate their organs to other people who are not in their family. This happens in the West but in Egypt it is mostly the poor people who are desperate and end up selling their organs for money.”

Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America.