Nearly a Year After Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood Were Overthrown in Egypt, Some say Persecution of Christians and Other Religious Minorities is Getting Worse

Student supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood blocked a road in Cairo on Wednesday. Credit Aly Hazzaa/El Shorouk Newspaper, via Associated Press
Student supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood blocked a road in Cairo on Wednesday. Credit Aly Hazzaa/El Shorouk Newspaper, via Associated Press

The architects of the military takeover in Egypt promised a new era of tolerance and pluralism when they deposed President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood last summer.

Nine months later, though, not much has changed for Egypt’s freethinkers and religious minorities, who are still waiting for the new leadership to deliver on that promise. Having suppressed Mr. Morsi’s Islamist supporters, the new military-supported government has fallen back into patterns of sectarianism that have prevailed here for decades.

Prosecutors continue to jail Coptic Christians, Shiite Muslims and atheists on charges of blasphemy or contempt of religion. A panel of Muslim scholars has cited authority granted under the new military-backed Constitution to block screenings of the Hollywood blockbuster “Noah” because it violates an Islamic prohibition against depictions of the prophets.

The military leader behind the takeover, Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, often appeals to the Muslim majority in a language of shared piety that recalls Anwar el-Sadat, nicknamed the believer president, who invoked religious authority to bolster his legitimacy and inscribed into the Constitution the principles of Islamic law.

Mr. Sisi has listened attentively as Muslim clerics allied with him have offered religious justifications for violence against his Islamist opponents. Sympathetic Muslim scholars have compared him and his security chief to Moses and Aaron, while the new government has tightened its grip on mosques and has pushed imams to follow state-approved sermons.

Many Copts and other religious minorities cheered the military takeover because they feared the Muslim Brotherhood, a religiously exclusive movement whose leaders have a history of denigrating non-Muslims. The military authorities shut down ultraconservative Islamist satellite networks that had stigmatized Christians or Shiite Muslims. And the military sponsored constitutional revisions that scaled back the references to Islamic traditions and declared with new directness that religious freedom was now absolute.

In some ways, however, sectarian tensions have worsened: Coptic Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the population, have faced violence and scapegoating from Islamists angry about the church’s support for the takeover. Prosecutors and police officers — almost all in their jobs long before Mr. Morsi took office — have done little to protect the Christians or other religious minorities, rights advocates say.

“Nothing has really changed,” said Kameel Kamel, a Coptic Christian in the southern city of Asyut whose son Bishoy, 26, was jailed under Mr. Morsi on charges of posting blasphemy on Facebook.

Mr. Kamel hoped that the end of Islamist rule would free his son, and last November the family was elated when an appeals court ordered a retrial.

But five months later, his son is still behind bars. Perhaps fearful of the mob that gathered outside court for the younger Mr. Kamel’s first hearing, the prosecutors have ignored court deadlines for his release or retrial. “My hopes were disappointed,” the father said. Prosecutors declined to comment.

Despite its sweeping language, the revised Constitution still limits religious freedom to Sunni Muslims, Christians and Jews. It also stipulates that Parliament should regulate crimes like contempt of religion.

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SOURCE: DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK 
The New York Times

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