Group calls for greater religious freedom in Egypt

Published September 20, 2011

The human rights situation in Egypt since the end of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship is “worrying,” according to a German human rights group. Photo: MOHPhoto

Berlin-As Egypt prepares for parliamentary elections expected to take place in November, religious freedom is coming under pressure, a German human rights organization said on Sept. 20.

The human rights situation in Egypt since the end of Hosni Mubarak’s dictatorship is "worrying," Martin Lessenthin, a spokesman for the Frankfurt-based International Society for Human Rights (ISHR), told reporters in Cologne Tuesday during a press conference focusing on the plight of Egypt’s Christian minority.

Christians account for around 10 percent of the Egyptian population and have long suffered discrimination, as well as violent attacks. In January, a Coptic church in Alexandria was bombed during a New Year service killing 24 people.

The fall of the Mubarak regime in February was the result of protests that united Muslims and Christians, and initially raised hopes for improved human rights and religious tolerance in the country. But since then, there have been a number of attacks by extremist Muslims on churches, Coptic villages and members of both the Coptic churches (who account for 95 percent of Egyptian Christians) and other Christian denominations.

"There is a significant number of converts in Egypt and they are the most severely persecuted minority," Max Klingberg, an ISHR expert on Egypt said in an interview. "There have been many cases of attacks on converts and we believe the authorities have no interest in protecting them."

The ISHR reported that Egypt’s temporary cabinet-appointed by the de facto military government-proposed an amendment to Egyptian law that would make requirements for licenses to build places of worship the same for all faiths. This would address an ongoing problem of complicated legal obstacles to the construction of churches.

But Klingberg said that this legislation also criminalizes those who worship in unlicensed buildings, and that due to discrimination, Christians would still find it more difficult to acquire the necessary permits.

"The state must give Egypt’s religious minorities the same rights and the same protection as members of the Muslim majority population," the ISHR said in a statement. "This includes rights enshrined in law to build churches, the end of the persecution of [converts] and the protection of minorities from extremist Muslims."

While new freedoms have been granted to the press and political parties, emergency law remains in place and the ISHR said that politically motivated arrests and instances of torture have increased since the military took charge.

The ISHR called for the German government and their counterparts in the rest of Europe to provide greater support for the implementation of human rights in Egypt and said that Western development funds should be linked to such improvements.

Parliamentary elections are expected to begin on Nov.21. No date has been set for the presidential election.


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