A Coptic Christian activist from Egypt said Tuesday that the Egyptian military has essentially ignored the persecution of the Coptic community as leaders attempt to stabilize a country riven by continued violence.
Mina Rizkalla, a Coptic activist from Cairo, said in an interview with the Washington Free Beacon that the military has provided scant assistance to Copts despite its pledge to protect citizens from radical Islamists affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamist mobs have torched dozens of Coptic churches and homes in a renewed bout of sectarian violence sparked by the military’s ouster of former President and Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi on July 3.
“They haven’t done anything at all,” Rizkalla said. “There are churches that were attacked where there were plenty of warning signs. If there was any will to protect the Coptics, there was a chance to protect them.”
“They didn’t protect them. And that’s not only after the revolution. That has been going on since even before (Hosni) Mubarak,” he said, referring to the military dictator in power before Morsi.
The vast majority of Egyptians are Sunni Muslims, while Coptic Christians comprise about 9 percent of Egypt’s population of about 80 million. Pro-Muslim Brotherhood militants have said their attacks on Copts are reprisals for the community’s support of the military crackdown.
However, Rizkalla said the Copts’ pleas for military assistance have fallen on deaf ears.
“We are not loud enough,” he said. “You kick a Coptic out of his house and the maximum you will hear is a couple of free words from human rights [activists] and that’s it.”
Rizkalla was in attendance Tuesday at a panel discussion hosted by the Westminster Institute at the National Press Club on the conditions in Egypt. Members of the panel, which included former military and intelligence officers, recently returned from meetings with military and religious leaders in Egypt.
Sebastian Gorka, director of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ National Security Fellows Program, said violence proliferated after Morsi’s removal because of poor cooperation between the Egyptian military and police forces. He said that has now improved in areas like the Sinai Peninsula near Israel, where Islamist insurgents have stepped up their attacks against security forces.
Gorka said he recommended against cutting off the $1.3 billion in annual aid sent by the United States to the Egyptian military, adding that Egypt needs time as a committee comprised of 50 leaders attempts to draft a new constitution by the end of the year.
“Democracy is not a shake and bake venture,” he said.
“These individuals have to find themselves. If you have an election now, you’re going to see another bad result. It has to be done properly.”
Rizkalla said the new constitution should acknowledge the diversity of the country and avoid religious distinctions.
“In Egypt, it’s not only a Christian, Sunni Muslim country,” he said. “There are Shias, there are Baha’is, there are atheists. These people all must be included in the new constitution.”
“I don’t think it’s the job of the state to give rights based on what you believe. It should be secular laws that protect all people no matter what they believe in.”
He added that while he understands why the Muslim majority has generally overlooked the plight of the Copts, the responsibility ultimately falls on the military and the interim government.
“Even for the secular Muslims, it’s not hurting them, and they don’t relate to it. I don’t blame them for that,” he said.
“At the same time it’s the job of the government to protect its citizens.”