Amnesty accuses Egypt of failing to protect Christians
Amnesty International on Wednesday accused the Egyptian government of failing to protect hundreds of Coptic Christians who fled their homes in northern Sinai after a series of attacks by Islamic State militants.
The London-based rights group said the government's response fits with a pattern of failing to protect the embattled minority, adding that after other sectarian attacks the government sought reconciliation agreements between communities rather than prosecuting those responsible.
An IS affiliate waging an insurgency in the Sinai last week released a video calling for attacks on Egypt’s Coptic minority.
Dozens of families have left the peninsula after seven Christians were killed in suspected jihadist attacks, including a Copt murdered in the north Sinai city of El-Arish whose house was also burned.
Najia Bounaim, a Tunisia-based Amnesty representative, said "the Egyptian authorities have consistently failed to protect Coptic residents of North Sinai from a longstanding pattern of violent attacks," and "must not let them down further now."
President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi defended his government’s response to the attacks and the militant insurgency in Sinai.
“(The attacks aim to) destabilize the fabric of Egypt… to give the impression that one group isn’t protected as it should be,” Sisi said in remarks broadcast on television late on Tuesday.
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“(The attacks make) people say that Egyptians are targeted in El-Arish and we are beginning to disunite. Some accuse the state of not helping them.”
Copts, who make up about 10 percent of Egypt’s 90-million population, say they are sidelined in both the education system and state institutions.
Extremists accuse them of supporting the military overthrow of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013, which ushered in a deadly crackdown on his supporters.
“You say ‘don’t abandon the Sinai’. At a state level, that means the mobilization of army and police forces,” Sisi said.
He said Egypt was bearing a “huge cost” in battling IS, and paid tribute to army and police “martyrs” killed in north Sinai.
The former army chief added that security services were doing their utmost to protect civilians in the region.
“We are like a surgeon who wants to remove the danger without damaging the rest of the patient,” Sissi said.
Sinai has become increasingly volatile following the overthrow of dictator Hosni Mubarak in 2011, and the military coup against President Mohamad Morsi in 2013.
Since then, the Egyptian military have battled the militants in the north of the country who appear to be growing in strength.
Most of the Sinai attacks are claimed by the Islamic State group's Egyptian branch, "Sinai Province".
IS also said it carried out the bombing in October of a Russian airliner over Sinai, killing all 224 people on board.