Egypt: National Security Department’s actions heighten tension between religious groups
This past week, Egypt has witnessed a number of important events regarding relations between Egyptian Copts and Salafists that have not been widely broadcasted in the media.
On the evening of Thursday 2nd May, several hundred Salafi demonstrators protested outside the headquarters of the National Security Department to denounce what is seen to be an increase in prosecutions against practising Salafis. The protestors claimed that these riots were prompted by the National Security’s issuing of retrospective summons to group leaders who had been affiliated with political Islam prior to the Arab Spring. However, it became clear that the main objective of the demonstrations was to cause political damage to the National Security Agency in a similar manner to the protests outside the Interior Ministry during the uprisings in January 2011. These recent protests come after attacks on Coptic churches in Wasta city, in Bani Swaif Province, carried out by Salafist groups. These disturbances in Wasta city come after a young Muslim woman married a Christian man and subsequently fled to Turkey in March 2013.
Despite insistences from the church authorities that they were unaware of this marriage, members of the Muslim population in Wasta were incensed at the marriage and threatened to close and burn local shops, stating that a Christian woman would be held hostage until the young Muslim woman was returned to them.
The Government response to this was to arrest the family of the Christian man accused of hiding the Muslim girl and to renew provisions that allowed for 45 days imprisonment. In an example of double standards, the same procedure was not followed when a Christian girl, Selvana Albert Ezzi, disappeared and it was believed that a Salafist man was accused of keeping her. The police were given instructions as to her whereabouts and information that a number of Christian girls who had been forcibly married to Muslim men were at the same location. No police investigations were held to ascertain her whereabouts.
In another news story, concerns have been expressed regarding an English teacher in a secondary school in Alexandria who is believed to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and whose religious beliefs are influencing his profession. It has been reported that a schoolgirl called Hagar Tariq has been prevented by this teacher from sitting her exams on the grounds that her clothes did not conform to Islamic law. Despite the fact that the girl wears a headscarf, the teacher asserted that this was not sufficient and her dress remained indecent. This teacher has since been referred for investigation by the Alexandria Education Directorate.
In both these instances, the National Security Department is the common denominator. The department follows, monitors, and reports on individuals and events with no restraints and accountability. The department does not limit its remit to anarchists and those who function outside of the law and has therefore produced resentment amongst political Islamist groups, like those protesting outside the headquarters, who feel unduly targeted.
Chairman of Al Kalema Centre for Human Rights
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