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Coptic church bombing in Egypt: Mubarak must prosecute

Minority Christians -- called Copts -- rightly complain that no one goes to jail for religious attacks on them. Egypt and other countries must reverse this practice of impunity for perpetrators.

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Strong condemnation of the deadly New Year’s bombing at a Christian church in Egypt has come from where it counts most: religious and political leaders of this predominantly Muslim country.

Extreme Islamists – possibly linked to Al Qaeda – are likely behind the attack that killed 21. So it’s encouraging that in Cairo, the grand sheikh of Islam’s preeminent theological institute has denounced the bombing as a “heinous crime.” Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak got on national television and promised to bring the perpetrators to justice.

But will he? The Egyptian government prefers to handle sporadic violence against the country’s Christian minority – called Copts – through a “reconciliation” process between perpetrators and victims.

Reconciliation has some value, but no one does time for the crimes against Egypt’s Copts, such as murder or destruction of property. In its 2010 annual report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom rightly condemns such impunity:

“The absence of accountability breeds lawlessness, which encourages individuals to attack, and even kill, others who dissent from or fail to embrace their own religious views, including members of minority religious communities.”

With no firm pushback from the state, religiously motivated attacks on Copts are on the rise in Egypt. Some describe the violence of recent years more like a purge.

Indeed, Christians and other religious minorities – as well as nonconforming Muslims – are under increasing attack in the Middle East and North Africa, regions which a 2009 Pew study found to have the most government restrictions on religious practice anywhere in the world.

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