Egypt mulls new laws to tackle faith violence


Egypt said it was considering drafting new laws to criminalise sectarian violence and ease restrictions on building churches, four days after 12 people died in inter-faith clashes.

The cabinet said in a statement it would also ban protests and gatherings outside places of worship and forbid the use of religious slogans by political parties, particularly during elections.

The sectarian clashes represent a challenge for Egypt’s new military rulers, under pressure to impose security and revive the economy while seeking to avoid tough security tactics against Islamists employed by the former regime, Reuters reports.

The cabinet statement said it had set up a committee to draw up the new regulations including “a unified law for building of places of worship”.

Current laws make it easier to build mosques than churches. Christians, who make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s 80 million people, have long demanded equal rights.

Muslims and Christians staged unity demonstrations during protests that toppled former president Hosni Mubarak on February 11, but inter-faith tensions have intensified.

On Saturday clashes triggered by rumours that Christians had abducted a woman who converted to Islam left 12 people dead and around 238 wounded. A church, a residential building and two shops were also wrecked by fire.

Many Egyptians said the violence was sparked by Salafists, who adhere to a strict interpretation of Islam. Others blamed remnants of the former regime.

The army arrested 190 people after the clashes and said they would be tried.

The cabinet statement said authorities would renovate churches damaged by violence and re-open a number of churches that were closed in the past by authorities without explanation.

Egyptian activist and lawyer Gamal Eid said Egypt needed to do more to protect religious freedoms.
“Egyptians should not be asked to identify their religion in their National ID. Change of faith should be granted by law and should happen easily and with no discrimination or violence,” he told Reuters.
“When this is achieved, then the sectarian violence will cease,” he added.