11th August, 2013

Rights actvists expressed "deep concern" Friday over rising attacks against Egyptian Christians, after a Coptic Christian girl was shot and killed while walking home from a Bible class at her evangelical congregation.

The attacks prompted Pope Tawadros II of the Coptic Church to cancel his weekly public sermons, church observers said.

Among those killed in recent days was 10-year-old Jessica Boulous of the Ain Shams section of Cairo, according to Christians familiar with the situation. She was killed early Tuesday evening, 6th August, while walking from the Ahmed Esmat Street Evangelical Church through a market to her home with her Sunday school teacher.

Though the teacher tried to rush her to hospital, the single bullet had passed through her chest and heart, killing her instantly, witnesses said.

Nasr Allah Zakaria, Jessica"s uncle, said in published remarks that the girl"s family was devastated. There was no immediate claim of responsibility, but Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) told BosNewsLife that attacks "have increased in frequency" since last month's removal of the President Mohamed Morsi and his "regime".

"Violence and hate speech targeting religious minorities was already on the increase under the former president's rule. Since his removal from power, attacks on the Coptic community in particular have increased sharply, primarily but not exclusively in Upper Egypt, following allegations from several Islamist sources that Christians played a pivotal role in the removal of Morsi"s regime," CSW explained.

Sixteen Egyptian human rights organizations have also expresed "grave concern regarding the increasing sectarian violence which has targeted Christians and their churches since the June 30 uprising" against Morsi. They denounced the "continued negligence of the institutions of the state to provide the necessary protection to Christian citizens."

They said authorities refuse to "decisively confront sectarian attacks, and to enforce the law by holding those responsible for the acts of sectarian violence, which have been seen in several governorates to account."

Bishop Angaelos, General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, agrees. "Egypt cannot move forward while state apparatus does not hold people accountable for these unlawful hate crimes that stand to divide the country further, promoting increased polarisation at every level. Proactive efforts must be made towards promoting social cohesion and inclusion for all members of society so that this new phase of Egyptian history can be built upon true unity, collaboration, and reconciliation."

CSW"s chief executive Mervyn Thomas told BosNewsLife that his group has urged the interim government "to ensure security for the Coptic community, and that those perpetrating sectarian violence are apprehended and charged."

He said Egypt's Christians "must be afforded the same protection under the law as their fellow citizens."

Copts, as most Christians are known in the country, comprise roughly 10 per cent of Egypt"s mainly Muslim population of 83 million people.

"We continue to pray and stand in solidarity with all Egyptians at this critical time in their nation"s journey to full democracy," Thomas said.

- BosNewsLife