Bishop and baroness warn of rising violence against Christians in Egypt

Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali and Baroness Caroline Cox have expressed concern over the frequency of attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt and international media coverage of the events.

They are among the signatories of an open letter warning of widespread ethno-religious violence “that demands an immediate response”.

It comes after several clashes between Christians and Muslims, one of which left 12 people dead and two churches badly damaged after being set on fire by Muslims.

“The collapse of the powerful state apparatus and the subsequent power vacuum this created, however, quickly opened a ‘Pandora’s Box’ of social problems that the Mubarak regime had either maintained or failed to address,” they warn.

“As anticipated, we are now witnessing political struggles for power and influence in the new Egypt.

“While most of this is a necessary part of the emergence of true democracy in Egypt, the increase in and intensity of attacks on Christians are indicators of imminent civil unrest and the potential for widespread ethno-religious violence that demands an immediate response.”

They criticised the response of Egypt’s Armed Forces for failing to provide adequate protection.

“[The authorities] continue to follow the policy of Mubarak’s regime by failing to uphold justice or arrest the real culprits, and by forcing reconciliation meetings on the victims that favour their attackers,” they said.

They go on to criticise local and international media coverage of the attacks, including references to the violence as “communal clashes”, and “inaccurate” reports that they are incited by Coptic Christians.

“Some Islamic media uses harsher and more dangerous tones, with frequent calls to ‘punish’ and ostracise the 10 million strong Coptic community,” they said.

Reports of “sectarian clashes”, meanwhile, are enabling radical groups “to continue their aggression” and the Egyptian authorities “to remain oblivious and insensitive towards a vulnerable minority”, they said.

According to state news agency MENA, Copts have agreed to end nearly two weeks of demonstrations outside the state television building in central Cairo after the authorities agreed to release some detainees.

MENA reports that the authorities have arranged a meeting between Christian and Muslim leaders on Saturday to discuss two closed churches in Ain Shams.