What's more, Egypt's new constitution, approved by referendum in December, includes a number of problematic provisions that do not bode well for religious freedom, such as criminalizing blasphemy and limiting places of worship to Muslims, Christians, and Jews, thus leaving out small religious communities such as Baha'is. The Baha'i faith remains banned and Egyptian officials have said that the community would likely face the burden of suing in court for recognition to test the new constitution.
Over the past year, Coptic Christians, and their property, continued to experience sustained attacks by extremists, including an unprecedented attack in April inside St. Mark Cathedral, the inner sanctum of the Coptic Church. The attack resulted in the deaths of seven Copts and two Muslims. In most cases, the government failed or was slow to protect religious minorities from violence. The failure to convict those responsible continued to foster a climate of impunity making further attacks likely.
Fanning the flames are conservative Salafi clerics and extremists, who often use incendiary, sectarian rhetoric and incitement without consequence or accountability. Among the most vilified groups are Christians, Shiites, and Baha'is, all religious minority communities. Earlier this week, five Egyptian Shiites were lynched in Giza and their bodies dragged through the streets by extremists who shouted anti-Shiite slogans. Reports indicate that the Shiites were targeted solely because they were congregating at a private home to commemorate a religious festival. These heinous acts must be deterred before they become commonplace and open a new chapter of violent repression on the basis of minority religious practice.
While the government fails to bring the perpetrators of this violence to justice, the courts increasingly convict and imprison Egyptian citizens charged with blasphemy, with Christians suffering the brunt of these cases. The majority of those sentenced to prison terms were Christian, most of the time based on flimsy evidence and flawed trials. Dissident Muslims also face harassment, detention, and imprisonment as a consequence of blasphemy charges, although many of these cases often are combined with other charges, such as criticizing the president, an integral tactic of President Morsy's allies.
Regardless of what happens on June 30, one thing is clear: A growing number of Egyptians are deeply disappointed that the ideals of their revolution -- freedom, justice, and dignity -- remain just that, ideals. Unless the Egyptian government demonstrates the capacity and will to address the legitimate grievances of its citizens and is more inclusive of all segments of society, including religious minorities, Egypt's messy transition to democracy will get even messier in the near term and tread down a path not worth imagining.