The government failed to prevent, investigate, or prosecute crimes targeting members of religious minority groups, which fostered a climate of impunity. The government failed to protect Christians targeted by kidnappings and extortion, and there were reports that security and police officials sometimes failed to respond to these crimes, especially in Upper Egypt. The government continued to prosecute individuals for denigrating religions. There were incidents of police abuse of Christians and atheists. The government renewed an investigation into a potential defamation of Islam charge against Muhammad Hegazy, a convert from Islam to Christianity. The government continued to harass Shia and prohibit conversion from Islam. Some government bodies continued to vilify Shia and atheists. The government failed to condemn some anti-Semitic speech.
According to a local human rights organization, police beat and arrested Christian residents of Gabal El-Teir village, township of Samalot, Minya Governorate, and raided Christian-owned houses September 15, after local Christians demonstrated at the Gabal El-Teir police station over the alleged kidnapping of a Coptic woman for forcible conversion to Islam. The protests became violent, with multiple reports of demonstrators throwing rocks at police and police firing gunshots into the air. The confrontation left three policemen injured and the windows of two police vehicles smashed, according to the MOI. According to the same human rights organization, the raids on Christian-owned houses were carried out by central security forces and riot police at midnight, after the dispersal of the protest. The group said the officers destroyed items in villagers’ homes and arrested at least 65 Copts for assaulting security forces. Witnesses stated that detainees were beaten during their arrest, with some tied up and dragged through the streets of the village. The human rights organization described the response by security forces as “amounting to collective punishment of the village’s Christians.” Most of the detainees were released shortly after, although 12 remained in detention until September 23, when they were released on EGP 5,000 ($699) bail, according to local media. The incidents prompted the NCHR to promise investigations into the violations, after it received numerous complaints about police actions. Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim met with a delegation of Coptic Orthodox clergy from Minya September 23, during which he announced the MOI would compensate the families for their financial losses. At year’s end, the MOI had not disbursed any compensation.
Coptic Orthodox Church leaders said the kidnappings and extortion of Christians increased following the August 2013 attacks on churches and police stations, as the security situation deteriorated nationwide. In his testimony to the June 30 Fact-Finding Committee formed by former interim president Adly Mansour in 2013 to investigate the post-June 2013 violence, Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros identified kidnapping as among the most significant problems facing Christians. Since 2011, in many population centers Christians and Muslims alike were victimized. In Upper Egypt, however, Christians were disproportionately targets of these crimes, and to a lesser degree in the Cairo area and in the north. According to media reports, interviews with Coptic victims’ attorneys and Coptic clergy, Christians in the Minya, Qena, Assiut, and North Sinai Governorates were specifically targeted for kidnappings for ransom. Three kidnappings took place in June in North Sinai. The family of one of the victims, businessman Gamal Shenouda, paid EGP 300,000 ($41,958) in ransom to the kidnappers, according to a local civil society organization. In Naga Hammadi, Qena, the captors of Malak Zaghloul, a merchant, returned him on July 7, five days after he was kidnapped, after his family paid a ransom of an undisclosed amount. In comments to the press in July, a Coptic Orthodox religious leader complained of the frequency of kidnappings in Naga Hammadi and blamed security agencies for their inability to protect Copts. He stated that the number of abduction cases exceeded 70 in the city in the past three years. A report published in November by the June 30 Fact-Finding Committee, citing MOI data, stated the total number of kidnapped Christians since 2011 to be 140, 96 of whom returned.
There were unconfirmed reports of administrative penalties imposed on police leaders in July for negligence in deterring the recurrent kidnappings in Naga Hammadi. Church leaders raised the issue with President Sisi in an August meeting. The president said the state would pay additional attention to the problems of Christians, according to the presidency’s public statement following the meeting.
In a March report, a local human rights organization documented eight cases of extortion and 12 cases of robbery and kidnapping involving Copts in Shamia village, from which the perpetrators obtained more than EGP 1.5 million ($210,000) in ransom payments during the period September 2013 to January 2014. The organization reported that security forces raided the village in February, arrested some of the criminal gang members, and confiscated stolen items. By the end of the year, security had been restored to the village and the kidnappings and extortion stopped, according to the local organization.
Human rights activists and Christian leaders stated police and security forces often failed to respond to the kidnapping and extortion of Christians in Upper Egypt, including targeting of landowners. They said that in some areas of Upper Egypt perpetrators forced Christians to pay “protection money.” Police reportedly told families of Christian kidnap victims to “pay the ransom and keep quiet.” One Christian leader said that the extortions were divesting Christians of their wealth and dignity.
In September attackers reportedly shot and killed a Coptic dentist in Assuit for refusing to pay protection money. In comments to the press, his family said thugs had been threatening to kill him for over a year if he did not pay protection money. They also said he filed several complaints against the individuals, but the police were unresponsive.
There were reports of increasing land thefts from Christians, especially in Upper Egypt.
On October 25, Ahmed Harqan, an atheist, stated that police detained, beat, and interrogated him and his wife after they fled to a police station in Alexandria for protection from a mob threatening them with violence. Five days earlier, Harqan had discussed his atheist beliefs on a widely-viewed television talk show. According to Harqan, the police questioned them about their religious convictions and called them apostates. On October 26, the public prosecutor ordered the investigation of a defamation of religion complaint filed against Harqan by a group of lawyers for statements he made during the talk show. According to local media, Lieutenant Colonel Ibrahim El-Naggar, head of El-Dekheila investigations, denied police beat Harqan, stating the police protected him and his wife until the couple was referred to prosecution for interrogation.
Alexandria Security Directorate Chief General Amin Ezz El-Din said in a phone interview in March that a special task force would be formed to arrest Alexandria-based atheists who declared their atheism on social media. No news of the formation of such a unit had emerged by year’s end.
In June Bishoy Armia Boulous, a convert from Islam to Christianity previously known as Mohamed Hegazy, was sentenced to five years in prison following his December 2013 arrest for “illegally filming demonstrations to stir international public opinion against Egypt.” Boulous appealed the lower court’s ruling, and the appellate court ordered Boulous’ release on July 20, pending a decision on appeal. However, police immediately rearrested Boulous on accusations of blasphemy, and according to a prominent international human rights organization report, reopened a 2009 case of “denigrating Islam.” Authorities subsequently held Boulous in pretrial detention. According to a December 11 report by Human Rights Without Frontiers International, Boulous’ attorney stated his client was being held illegally, and on December 1 was transferred to a prison cell in Minya reserved for prisoners facing the death penalty. Boulous’ lawyer reported police tortured Boulous and subjected him to other mistreatment while in custody. At the end of the year, no charges had been filed against Boulous on the blasphemy case. On December 28, the appellate court accepted Boulous’ appeal of his sentence on the illegal filming charge and reduced it to one year. Boulous was previously known for suing the MOI in 2007 for his unsuccessful attempt to change his legal religious identity from Muslim to Christian, testing the constitutional right of freedom of religion. The administrative court ruled in favor of the MOI.
The trial of 31 suspects for the June 2013 killing of four Shia citizens in the village of Zawyat Abu Muslam in Giza began on December 21. The prosecution charged the suspects with the murder of the four individuals and the attempted murder of 13 others. A mob of thousands of angry villagers had killed 66-year-old Hassan Shehata, a prominent Shia figure, and three others, after weeks of denigration of the Shia by Salafist preachers.
In October the public prosecutor referred 48 suspects to trial for sectarian violence in Al Dabaiya village in Luxor in July 2013 that left one Muslim and four Christians dead. Among the 48 defendants, 19 were charged with murder, seven with incitement to violence, and the rest with arson and vandalism. All the defendants were Muslim, except for three who were charged with the murder of the Muslim victim. The trial was ongoing at year’s end.
Several suspects detained for the killings of five Christians − including two children − and a young Muslim man outside St. Mary’s Church in Al-Warraq, Giza, in October 2013 had not been referred to trial at year’s end. In November 2013, the public prosecutor banned publishing information on the case. According to the church’s leaders and witnesses, there were no security forces in the vicinity of the church at the time of the attack.
Government prosecutors investigated criminal complaints filed by citizens against individuals whose statements or actions were alleged to be blasphemous, denigrating of religion, or insulting to the Prophet Muhammad or other religious figures. Some of these cases went to trial, resulting in the convictions of at least six people during the year, a decrease from 2013 when nine persons were convicted on similar charges. Most of these cases were filed against individuals in Upper Egypt, according to a local human rights organization.
Shia activist Amr Abdullah was sentenced February 26 to five years in prison with labor on charges of denigrating Islam. Abdullah was arrested during Ashura commemorations in November 2013 outside Cairo’s Al Hussein Mosque. Abdullah’s arrest followed an altercation between him and a group of Salafists. A local human rights group reported the prosecution referred Abdullah to trial based on his statement under questioning that he was a Shia. The court ruled that Abdullah defamed Islam and promoted convictions contrary to majority views. Abdullah appealed the sentence, but the Cairo Court of Appeals rejected his appeal on April 29. The Ministry of Awqaf again instructed imams to prohibit Shia commemorations of Ashura in mosques in 2014. The government closed shrines in the vicinity of Al-Hussein Mosque on November 3, the day of Ashura, and for several days after. Salafist leaders had also asked the government to stop Shia commemorations inside Al-Hussein Mosque.
The West Armant Misdemeanors Court sentenced Kerolos Shawky, a Christian, on June 24 to six years in prison for “liking” a Facebook page that contained commentary perceived as denigrating Islam. Shawky was sentenced to three years in prison for defaming Islam and another three years for fomenting sectarian strife. Prior to his trial the court had released him on bail. On May 28, villagers reportedly distributed leaflets calling for vengeance against Shawky and on May 29, a mob attacked his house, hurling stones and attempting to set fire to it. Police arrested Shawky and six of the assailants, who were subsequently released. Hours before Shawky’s first hearing on June 2, villagers threw Molotov cocktails at four Christian-owned shops close to Shawky’s village. Shawky appealed the sentence, but on September 27, the Armant Misdemeanor Appellate Court upheld his sentence in absentia after he did not appear for his trial date. There were no further arrests or legal action taken in response to the attacks against Shawky or any of the properties.
On December 27, prosecutors in South Cairo referred journalist Fatima Naoot to trial for denigrating Islam by mocking the Islamic sacrifice ritual conducted by Muslims during Eid El-Adha. Naoot had posted on October 1 a tweet describing the ritual of sacrificing cows or sheep as a “massacre.” Her trial was scheduled to begin in January 2015.
The Luxor Misdemeanor Appellate Court on June 15 sentenced Damiana Abdel Nour, a Christian elementary school teacher, to six months in prison, overturning a lower court’s sentence fining her EGP 100,000 ($13,986) for denigrating Islam in 2013. The public prosecutor had appealed the lower court’s sentence, demanding her imprisonment. The parents of three of Abdel Nour’s students had filed a complaint accusing her of denigrating Islam and evangelizing among her students during a class on religious life in ancient Egypt. She was reportedly cleared by two independent investigations conducted by the school council and local office of the MOE. Abdel Nour did not attend the final verdict session and remained a fugitive at year’s end.
The Beba Misdemeanors Appellate Court on June 5 rejected Karam Saber’s appeal of a five-year prison sentence for “insulting the deity and defaming religions” based on his 2011 collection of short stories entitled, Where is God? That appeal followed a March retrial by the Beba Partial Court of Beni Suef, which also confirmed the original sentence. Two days earlier the administrative court rejected another suit filed by Saber, citing lack of jurisdiction, demanding the annulment of his trial based on the unconstitutionality of an article in the penal code in light of the 2014 constitution. During his first trial the prosecutor consulted a church in Beni Suef and Al-Azhar for their opinion of the book. Both institutions denounced the book, saying it contradicted the “divine religions” and damaged Egyptian societal values.
In June the MOE demoted Ayman Ramzy, a public school librarian, transferred him to a new school, and barred him from contact with students or teachers after he spoke about his atheistic beliefs during an April appearance on a television program. Parents of students had demanded he be reprimanded after his appearance on the show. The ministry filed complaints against him with the administrative prosecution and officially notified the public prosecutor of the ministry’s internal investigations of him. The administrative prosecution referred him to trial on December 17 and his first trial session was scheduled for January 2015. According to the media, the administrative prosecution charged him with promoting atheist ideas at his place of work and publicly through the media “in violation of society’s values, negatively affecting communal peace.”
On April 30, Salafist televangelist Sheikh Ahmed Abdullah, also known as Sheikh Abu Islam, appealed a three-year prison sentence received in 2013 for denigrating Christianity on a television program. The court reduced his sentence to six months’ imprisonment.
Several Muslim converts to Christianity filed lawsuits before the administrative judiciary, requesting the Civil Records Authority, part of the MOI, amend their civil records under the Civil Affairs Law, which provides for an official change in religious status upon the presentation of evidentiary documents from a specialized entity, in this case the church or Al-Azhar. Resolution of the cases was pending a ruling by the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) on the constitutionality of the article in the law. A lawsuit filed in 2008 alleges the article contradicts the constitution, which stipulates that the principles of Islamic sharia are the main source of legislation. The lawsuit asserts sharia explicitly prohibits conversion from Islam.
On December 29, the Alexandria Administrative Court issued a decision to ban permanently the Abu Hassira festival, an annual pilgrimage by non-Egyptian Jews to the shrine of 19th century scholar Rabbi Yaakov Abu Hassira. The court justified its decision by stating the festival was a “violation of public order and morals” and “incompatible with the solemnity and purity of religious sites.” The court additionally revoked the site’s designation as an antiquity by the Ministry of Antiquities. It also rejected an Israeli request submitted to UNESCO to transfer Abu Hassira’s remains to Israel. The court’s decision is subject to appeal. Prior to 2012, the government allowed the pilgrimage, overriding a similar decision in 2001 by the Alexandria Supreme Administrative Court. Since 2012, however, the government has cancelled the festival citing security concerns.
The NCHR stated it is working on updating the curriculum in public schools to remove all material inconsistent with human rights and equality.
Christians continued to face difficulty in building churches, repairing them, or constructing buildings adjacent to existing churches. According to the media, clashes broke out August 2 between the Christians and Muslims of North Ezbet Yacoub village in the township of Samalot, Minya, when rumors circulated that Copts were planning to convert a house under construction into a church without a permit, and Muslim residents attacked the house. In the aftermath of the clashes, police stopped the construction of another church in the area for approximately one month, according to local clergy. During a meeting with Pope Tawadros in August, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Ahmed el-Tayeb reportedly stated that Copts were free to build churches, “while taking into consideration the national security dimension.” However, certain media outlets subsequently quoted an official statement by Al-Azhar denying el-Tayyeb had made that statement.
Investigations into the attack on St. Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo in April 2013, during the funeral of six Christian victims of sectarian violence, continued at year’s end. As of the end of the year, the public prosecutor had charged 21 suspects with rioting, possession of bladed weapons and firearms, and jeopardizing national unity and communal peace.
The government continued to sponsor “reconciliation sessions” after sectarian attacks and intercommunal violence, instead of prosecuting the perpetrators of the crimes. Such reconciliation sessions generally precluded recourse to the judicial system for restitution as, in most cases, the parties agreed to drop all formal charges and lawsuits. Christians viewed the decisions emanating from these sessions as largely unfair, according to NGOs. According to a source in the Coptic Orthodox Church, the church accepted reconciliation sessions in some cases as an immediate measure to stop bloodshed and de-escalate tensions, but did not approve of these sessions as a substitute for the rule of law. The June 30 Fact-Finding Committee called on state authorities to cease their use. These extrajudicial sessions were usually attended by governorate or MOI officials, with Christian and Muslim clergy representing the conflicting parties. Results from these sessions could include some compensation for the aggrieved party and a penalty clause for the breaching of its terms.
In June senior police officials held a reconciliation session between the Coptic Harby family and the Muslim El Samadiya family in Cairo. During a dispute between the two families in February, a member of the Samadiya family was killed. Authorities arrested 13 Christians and charged them with murder, attempted murder, possession of unlicensed firearms, terrorizing citizens, and disrupting communal peace. The reconciliation session was attended by representatives of the families; Major General Yehia El Eraqy; the deputy head of the Cairo Security Directorate; the head of North Cairo investigations; the head of the El Matariya police station; and several local sheikhs. Elders in the area invited Christian clergy, who refused to attend the session, according to a member of the defense team of the Christian family. The settlement from the reconciliation session allowed the continuation of the lawsuit against the Christian family, and compelled the Harby family to move out of the neighborhood, present five empty shrouds to the El-Samadiya (a sign of peacemaking), slaughter five calves, donate 100 camels, and provide 340 square meters of land to build a mosque and one million EGP ($140,000) for construction expenses. According to a member of the defense team for the Harby family, the family agreed to take part in the reconciliation session to avoid any measures of revenge for the killing of the Samadiya family member, and to allow the uninvolved members of the family to return of the area, where the family owns property and businesses.
The executive summary of the June 30 Fact-Finding Committee report ascribed responsibility for the attacks on Christians, their private property, and churches to the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. The executive summary reported attacks took place in 21 governorates, where 52 churches were torched completely or partially, 12 other churches and facilities looted, and 402 Christian-owned properties attacked. The report also documented 29 killings of a sectarian nature that occurred during the period June 2013 – June 2014. The report stated there were cases of kidnapping and forced disappearances, mostly for ransom. The committee recommended issuance of a law to facilitate the rebuilding of churches, in keeping with the 2014 constitution. The committee urged reconsideration of the use of the customary reconciliation system to resolve instances of sectarian violence, and advocated additional measures to prevent discrimination in hiring and end hate speech. The committee also called on the judiciary to conclude promptly lawsuits involving sectarian violations, and for security agencies to confront the increase in kidnappings in some areas.
While the constitution prohibits the formation of political parties on the basis of religion, religiously-inspired parties, predominantly those favoring Salafist Islamic ideology, continued to operate. On November 26, the Cairo Court for Urgent Matters dismissed a lawsuit that sought to ban a number of religiously-inspired parties from participating in the forthcoming parliamentary elections, citing lack of jurisdiction.
Anti-Semitic sentiments routinely appeared in both government-owned and private media, and the government made few public attempts to distinguish between anti-Semitism and opposition to Israeli policies and practices. For example, on April 28, a Minya court described Islamists sentenced to death for the killing of a police officer as “demons” who followed Jewish scripture. The court also described the men as “enemies of the nation” who used mosques to promote the teachings of “their holy book, the Talmud.” In August 2013 in Minya, the court had sentenced 37 defendants in the case to death and 492 others to life imprisonment on charges of breaking into and burning down a police station, burning police vehicles, stealing weapons, murdering a police officer and attempting to murder another.
Government and official Islamic institutions used anti-Shia rhetoric. In a September statement, Awqaf Minister Mohamed Mokhtar Gomaa likened Shia followers to the Muslim Brotherhood, which the government designated as a terrorist organization in December 2013, because “they find it permissible to lie to achieve their goals.” In a televised interview on September 22, Sheikh Sabry Ebada, Undersecretary of Awqaf, said Shia work to spread a spirit of animosity and hatred in the country. In January the government denied entry to 61 Canadian Shia Muslim pilgrims to visit Shia holy sites, without giving justification, according to press reports. However, there were reports the government stopped Salafist groups from holding conferences engaging in incitement against Shia.
Members of the Bahai community are able to obtain identity cards with a “dash” in the religion field, but their marriages are not recognized or listed on their identity cards. Since 2011, Christians who convert to Islam and then back to Christianity may amend their national identification cards to reflect their chosen faith, according to an MOI decree pursuant to a court order.
Discrimination in government and private hiring remained widespread. While reliable statistics regarding rates of discrimination were unavailable, the report of the June 30 Fact-Finding Committee called on the government to stop discrimination against Christians in hiring. Christians continued to be underrepresented relative to their population in senior government positions. The cabinet under former Prime Minister Hazem El-Beblawi, who was in power from July 2013 to February 2014, included three Christian ministers out of a total of 36. The two subsequent cabinets of Prime Minister Ibrahim Mehlab also included three Christians, while Hesham Kandil’s cabinet, in power from August 2012 to July 2013, had one Christian representative. There were no Christians among the country’s 26 governors.
The government discriminated against religious minorities in public sector hiring and staff appointments to public universities. There were no Christians serving as presidents of the country’s 17 public universities and few Christians occupying dean or vice dean positions in the country’s public university system, according to academic sources. Only Muslims could study at Al-Azhar University, a publicly funded institution with approximately half a million students. Additionally, the government barred non-Muslims from employment in public university training programs for Arabic language teachers because the curriculum involves study of the Quran. The government compensated Muslim clergy but not Christian clergy.
Following the attacks on churches after the dispersal of the sit-ins of Rabaa Al Adawiya and Al Nahda Squares in Cairo in August 2013, the government announced the army would rebuild destroyed churches at its expense. Bishop Bimen of the Coptic Orthodox Church and head of the church committee in charge of the rebuilding process, commented in the media July 2 that 90 percent of the first stage of restoration was complete, and the armed forces had restored 10 churches and 29 facilities, including schools. He added that restored churches reopened in Minya, Fayoum, Beni Suef, and Sohag. In 2013, the Coptic Orthodox Church had estimated the cost of restoring the damaged churches and schools nationwide at 188 million EGP ($26.3 million).
There were mass arrests following the August 2013 attacks on churches, police stations, and other facilities in Minya, but few prosecutions. Eleven defendants were sentenced to life imprisonment in June on several charges, including attacking three churches in Suez. Ten of the defendants were tried in absentia. According to local media, on December 18, the Assiut Criminal Court sentenced 41 alleged Muslim Brotherhood supporters to sentences ranging from one to 15 years in prison for attacking several facilities, including five churches. Two were sentenced to 15 years and three to 10 years. The defendants were found guilty of illegal gathering, vandalism of public and private property, attacking citizens, and resisting authorities. The court also obligated them to pay for damages caused to public property.
While neither the constitution nor the civil or penal codes prohibit proselytizing, the government imposed legal penalties on activities related to proselytizing by non-Muslims. The government generally tolerated foreign religious workers on the condition they did not undertake efforts to proselytize Muslims. Sources stated non-Muslim minorities and foreign religious workers generally refrained from proselytizing to avoid risking legal penalties and extralegal repercussions from authorities and local Islamists.
President Sisi hosted Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II and leaders of other Christian denominations August 7 at the presidential palace. According to the media, the Christian leaders discussed their concerns, including the kidnapping of Christians, the restoration of churches destroyed or damaged in August 2013, the constitutional mandate that parliament pass a law regulating church construction and renovation, and assistance for Christians and other minorities fleeing violence in Iraq.
The government allowed members of unrecognized churches, such as Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses, to worship privately in small numbers. According to Jehovah’s Witnesses community leaders, they were not allowed to gather for worship services in groups of more than 30 people.
The government banned the importation and sale of Shia and Jehovah Witnesses literature.