Egypt’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) issued a press release on Wednesday denouncing recent statements by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International on the deadly bombing of St. Peter and St. Paul Church on Sunday, defending the state’s attempts to tackle terrorism.
The response, attributed to MFA spokesperson Ahmed Abu Zeid expressed, “deep dismay” over the international human rights organizations’ responses to the attack, which killed 24 churchgoers.
Amid condolences from a host of states and organizations worldwide, Egypt’s Foreign Ministry claimed HRW and Amnesty International “chose to spin the incident to suit a prejudiced and politically motivated narrative of sectarian tension in Egypt, and to portray a state of delinquency on the part of the government in protecting Coptic Egyptians, insinuating the Egyptian justice system is deficient, with no resemblance to the truth.”
Abu Zeid asserted the rights groups didn’t show any sympathy for the victims or their families and failed to depict the bombing as a terrorist attack.
HRW’s statement — “Egypt: Deadly Bombing at Coptic Cathedral; Authorities Should Better Protect Christian Community” — quoted President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressing his determination “to track down the perpetrators and put to trial everyone involved in this criminal act and other terrorist acts against the country,” adding that “the victims deserve a credible, transparent investigation that brings the perpetrators to justice and is crucial for ending such attacks.”
While Amnesty International’s statement — “Egypt: Bring to justice those behind deadliest church attack in years” — did not specifically mention “terrorism,” it openly condemned the bombing: “This sectarian attack targeting Coptic Christians as they attended Sunday worship is reprehensible and deeply disturbing.”
Abu Zeid argued further that the two organizations ignored the state’s swift response to the attack, and the government’s offers of support for families of the victims.
Family members, friends and acquaintances of those who died gathered outside St. Peter and St. Paul Church in their hundreds after the bombing and chanted against the government, and against what many of them perceive to be a failure on the part of the Interior Ministry to protect Coptic Christians in Egypt, who make up 10 percent of the population.
“This selective approach in dealing with the aftermath of Sunday’s terrorist bombing only aims to achieve narrow interests, and to produce a doom-laden analysis that is totally disconnected from reality, with the sole purpose of criticizing the Egyptian government, and a startling disregard for the ferocity of the bloody trail of terrorism and the killing of innocent civilians. In doing so, they are not just risking eroding their claims to high moral grounds, they are not enabling an environment for combatting vicious terrorism,” Abu Zeid said.
Egypt’s authorities have failed to protect the personal safety and basic rights of Coptic citizens, HRW’s statement argued, holding the Armed Forces accountable for the deaths of 26 Coptic Christians protesting in Cairo against the destruction of a church in Aswan on October 9, 2011, and adding that no military personnel have been convicted to date for these deaths.
HRW also highlighted the state’s “failure to carry out a credible investigation into the 2011 Two Saints Church bombing, first accusing the Army of Islam, a Gaza-based extremist group, of carrying out the attack, then arresting 300 local Muslims.” The rights organization argued the state has additionally failed to protect churches and Christian homes from mob attacks in recent years, opting instead to enforce “so-called reconciliation sessions with their Muslim attackers that deprive Christians of their rights and often result in Christians being forced to leave their homes and towns.”
In response to Amnesty International’s statement, the pro-state Al-Bawaba newspaper published an interview with member of the state-appointed National Council for Human Rights, George Ishaq, in which he is quoted as telling Amnesty International to “mind your own business.”
Al-Bawaba quoted Ishaq as saying: “Amnesty International should look at the human rights violations taking place in other states in the region, including Syria and Yemen, where thousands die without concern for any human principles.”