While Egypt has been in a state of mourning following the tragic terrorist attack that left Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral destroyed, at least twenty five killed and many others wounded; international organisations, namely Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have taken it upon themselves to use the event as an example of sectarian violence that exists in the country.
In a statement issued on the 12th of December Human Rights Watch begin by stating that ‘the horrific bombing that killed worshippers at Cairo’s main Orthodox cathedral compound on 11 December is the latest attack targeting Egypt’s Coptic Christian community. Egyptian authorities should bring to justice those responsible for the violence and take measures to properly protect the Coptic community from such attacks’. Unlike other international organisations, specifically the United Nations and the European Union, who have shown their solidarity with the Egyptian government, HRW stressed on the lack of protection that exists for Copts in Egypt.
Sarah Leah Whitson, MENA director at HRW has argued that the ‘governments recurring practice of neglecting the rights of Egypt’s Coptic Christians needs to end. The authorities should begin by treating the cathedral bombing with the gravity it demands’
This sentiment is also shared by Amnesty International. Philip Luther, Research and Advocacy Director for the MENA at Amnesty International stated on the 11th of December that ‘this sectarian attack targeting Coptic Christian as they attended Sunday worship is reprehensible and deeply disturbing’. Referring back to older examples such as the 2011 bombing of the Saints Church in Alexandria, statements released by both organisations focus on how authorities have failed to protect Copts.
By choosing to follow a very discriminatory approach and by failing to label the events as a terrorist attack both organisations have completely overlooked the rights of the victims and their families, which in itself contradicts with their mission to protect human rights. Furthermore, the decision to attack the Egyptian government only paves the way for future attacks to occur by giving the perpetrators a valid excuse for their acts.
Why is this approach only used when it concerns countries in the MENA region, but not used when other minorities face extreme racial violence in other parts of the world such as Europe and North America? This response further proves how a certain political agenda is at the forefront when such statements are made.
HRW as well as Amnesty have provided the terrorists carrying out this attack with the exact reaction they hoped for, instead of fighting back with a strong and powerful approach that highlights the human rights violations that occurred due to a dreadful terrorist attack against innocent worshippers, these organisations have chosen this opportunity to fit a politically tailored narrative that portrays the government in Egypt as a failing entity. Would a failing entity be keen on restoring the impacted church before the celebrations of the Coptic Christmas that takes place on January 7th? Furthermore, insisting on highlighting the so-called role of the government in fuelling sectarianism, both statements ironically fail to highlight that the year 2016 has been the year that witnessed the end of 160 years of tight restrictions on building churches in Egypt; an obvious endeavour that reflects the current’s government steady strides towards protecting the rights of the Coptic community in Egypt; a community that has always been, and will remain, an integral part of the Egyptian identity.
So, instead of repeating the clichés over and again about human rights conditions and minority rights in Egypt, I would recommend for HRW and Amnesty International to invest more in providing valid answers to address and uphold human rights in conformity with Egypt’s political, economic and social needs.
Laila El Deib
BA in Politics and International Relations – University of Kent