Populations at Risk
Previously Studied Situations
Since the 2010 there has been a marked increase in religious intolerance and sectarian attacks in Egypt targeting Coptic Christians (or Copts). The armed extremist group the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) has claimed responsibility for four recent bombings targeting Copts, killing over 100 people, and has publicly called for systematic attacks upon the Christian community.
On 11 December 2016 a suicide bomber in Cairo attacked St. Peter and St. Paul's Church, commonly known as El-Botroseya, killing over 25 people. El-Botroseya church is located next to St. Marks Coptic Orthodox Cathedral, which is the seat of the Coptic Orthodox Pope, Tawadros II. During February seven Copts were killed in attacks in El Arish, the largest city in the Sinai, after ISIL released a video calling for violence against Copts in the region.
The deadliest attack took place on 9 April, Palm Sunday, at two Coptic churches in the cities of Tanta and Alexandria, when the churches were full of worshippers. Two ISIL suicide bombers killed 49 people. On 9 April, in response to the Palm Sunday attack, President Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi announced a three-month state of emergency.
Despite the state of emergency, Copts have criticized the government for not delivering on promises of enhanced protection. In the most recent attack, on 26 May, armed gunman ambushed a convoy of Copts en route to the Saint Samuel Monastery near the city of Minya, killing 29 people. In response to the attack President Sisi authorized airstrikes on the Libyan town of Derna, where the attackers allegedly received training.
Coptic Christians constitute the majority of Egypt's 9 million Christians, making up roughly 10 percent of the population. The Coptic Christian community traces its origins back to Saint Mark, one of the founders of Christianity, and has been present in Egypt since the first century. Copts constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
Historically, the Coptic Christian minority has faced discrimination in Egypt. In October 2011 the security forces killed 26 Copts who were protesting the destruction of a church. The rise in the ISIL's attacks on Copts also comes at a time when torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and other human rights abuses committed by the security forces have reportedly become the norm in Egypt.
The international community, including the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary-General, have condemned ISIL's terrorist attacks and called for greater protection for the Coptic Christian minority.
The Egyptian government bears the primary responsibility to protect populations within its territory and must increase efforts to protect Copts from attacks by ISIL and other armed extremist groups. The government must also ensure that its security forces consistently uphold their obligations under international human rights law.
Last Updated: 30 May 2017