Both the Egyptian government and some church leaders are claiming that the Copts' situation has improved under President El-Sisi's leadership, despite the growing body of evidence to the contrary.
Coptic Solidarity has been cataloguing incidents of attacks on Copts since El-Sisi came to power over three years ago; in fact, they exceed in number those observed during Mubarak's era--and even under the Muslim Brotherhood's one-year rule. Contrary to the Egyptian government's habit of attributing the attacks to "foreign" terrorists, most are perpetrated by the Copts' fanatic Muslim neighbors and homegrown Islamists. In most instances, no one is held accountable for these atrocities, fostering a culture of impunity. Security forces typically arrive well after the attacks have taken their course, investigations are superficial, Copts are pressured into "reconciliation meetings," and suspects are released within a short time. In this culture of impunity, the Egyptian government has failed in its duty to protect Coptic citizens.
Attacks on churches have continued and the number of casualties has reached new heights. The deficit in places of worship has served as a flash point for violence by Islamists who further attack any building-including many residential homes-wherein Copts peacefully gather to pray. Security forces typically side with Islamists and respond by closing churches and other places of worship on the charge that they create "security threats."
The passage of the new church construction law, which was widely touted as a positive achievement by Sisi's government, is seriously flawed. As Mr. Bahey el-Din Hassan put it in his speech at Coptic Solidarity's recent conference, "it was under President Sisi's tenure that the Copts, for the first time in Egypt's modern history, became officially and legally recognized as a 'sect' and not equal citizens through the passing of the Church building law and the dropping of Egyptians' long standing collective demand for 'A Unified Law for Houses of Worship.'"
In addition to the implicit discrimination evident in passing a separate law regulating the building of Coptic Churches, NGOs offer analyses demonstrating how this law contains many loopholes that could and already have been used to prevent Copts from building and repairing churches.
A statement recently issued by the Coptic Orthodox Diocese in Minya on events in the village of Kedwan is especially indicative of the discrimination Egypt's Copts face: the government prevented them from reopening more than 15 churches closed by the Security Apparatus and from building any new churches. The statement also highlights the refusal by both the local governorate and central government in Cairo to address grievances by church leaders. The statement astutely exposes tactics by the Security Apparatus that foster enmity and discord between Copts and Muslims to its benefit, and uses local opposition by Islamists as an excuse for refusing to reopen the churches, thus denying Copts their constitutional right to worship freely.
Coptic Solidarity calls on the Egyptian government to take concrete steps to end the culture of hate and impunity, guarantee equal rights for all its citizens before the law, and ensure the Copts' right to practice their faith freely. Coptic Solidarity also urges U.S. legislators to be judicious in their evaluation of statements concerning the Copts' situation issued by the El-Sisi government versus the reality on the ground.