Egypt must face ‘sectarian crisis’: rights groups

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CAIRO – Egyptian rights groups said on Tuesday the government’s mishandling of sectarian rifts in the country created an environment that allowed attacks such as the New Year’s Day church bombing.
The attack, in which a suicide bomber apparently detonated his explosives outside a church killing 21 people, led to three days of rioting and clashes between Copts and police.
It came after two years of mounting sectarian tensions that began with the January 2009 killing of six Copts and a Muslim security guard outside a southern Egyptian church. Twelve rights groups said in a statement that the church bombing “should be dealt with within the context of recent escalation in sectarian tensions and violence” in the country.
“Mismanagement of sectarian tensions and violence by the state creates a fertile ground and conducive environment for these incidents to take place,” the statement said. The attack came less than a month after two Coptic demonstrators died in clashes with police over permission to build a church in Cairo.
Copts, who make up 10 percent of the country’s 80 million people, have been targets of sectarian attacks and complain of discrimination, such as the requirement for presidential permission to build a new church. Religiously driven violence breaks out sporadically in the most populous Arab country but bombings aimed at Copts are extremely rare.
“It is time for state officials to stop denying that there is a real sectarian crisis in Egypt and insisting on handling sectarian incidents using a heavy-handed security solution,” said the rights groups’ statement. Coptic leader Pope Shenouda III appealed for calm on Monday but called on the government to address his flock’s grievances.