CAIRO, Egypt (Morning Star News) – In the violence that exploded across Egypt today, supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi attacked scores of church buildings and Christian-owned homes and businesses in response to national security forces breaking up two protest camps in downtown Cairo.
At least two Coptic Christians were killed in the reprisal attacks, which started mid-morning after the armed break-up of the camps the Muslim Brotherhood and others had occupied in downtown Cairo for six weeks. Pro-Morsi assailants attacked 27 church buildings, setting fires that gutted most of them, according to the Coptic Watani Weekly; the government reported attacks on only seven Coptic churches.
The assailants attacked a women-only monastery along with at least two Christian schools and set at least 30 Coptic-owned homes across the country on fire, along with scores of businesses. They also destroyed three Bible Society stores in Egypt, sources said.
Wael Ibrahim, manager of the Assuit branch of the Egyptian Bible Society, watched helplessly from a distance as a group of Morsi supporters circled his store several times at 9:15 a.m., threatening to attack any Christian who approached. He left only to receive a cell phone call informing him that his store was on fire.
“I watched from afar, and I saw the Muslim Brotherhood people divide up into teams of 10 to attack anyone who approached the store,” Ibrahim said. “I eventually left and I called the police because it was all I could do. I left, and half an hour later I got a call, and someone told me the Bible Society was on fire, so I quickly went back. But I couldn’t get close enough to defend the place.”
Ibrahim said he watched the Bible Society structure burn down, and then the mob set fire, one-by-one, to every Christian-owned store in the area.
“They didn’t just attack the store, they attacked the café and every store on the street that had any connection with Christians – they destroyed so many stores,” he said, adding that the Bible Society lost all merchandise and literature. “All the books were burned. There is nothing left.”
Nationwide, two Christians have been confirmed killed – Iskander Rizk Allah from Delga in Minya Governorate, said to be in his 60s, and Rami Zakria of Alexandria, of whom little was immediately known. The circumstances of Rizk Allah’s murder have not been released. According to human rights workers, Zakria was shot.
A pastor and his wife were kidnapped from their Seventh-day Adventist church in Assuit, According to Watani, but the report could not be independently confirmed.
Today’s violence in several cities constituted the largest assault on the Christian community in Egypt, though the number of casualties is still unknown. Overall, 235 civilians died and more than 1,000 were injured, according to the Egyptian Health Ministry. Interior Minister Mohammed Ibrahim, saying Morsi supporters attacked 21 police stations and seven Coptic Christian churches, stated that 43 policemen also died.
Early this morning security attacked protestors at the camps they had occupied in Nasr City, an area of Cairo, since the first week on July. With the Army standing by, the non-military security forces began using tear gas and bulldozers, but then quickly moved on to firearms, including long-range rifles, in what they said was a response to shooting by protestors. The security forces denied using lethal force, but several journalists documented deaths from gunfire. Numerous human rights observers have characterized the clearing of the camp as a “blood bath.”
Those gathered at the camp, which included entire families, were protesting the July 3 ouster of former president Morsi, who was deposed by the military after massive nationwide protests. Millions had gathered to protest the way Morsi consolidated power among his Islamist base despite promises not to do so, alleged corruption, his handling of the economy and a trend toward ruling by unilateral and possibly illegal edicts.
Attacks on Christians
Prior to the attack on the camp, leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood warned that if it were broken up, Christians would be attacked.
Immediately before and after Morsi’s ouster, his supporters had repeatedly blamed the Christian minority for the protests that led to his removal from office. In sermons across the country, numerous imams called for Christians to be attacked, according to human rights activists.
“I believe they are angry because they created a story where the Christians are to blame for the collapse of Morsi,” said one evangelical Coptic lay pastor who requested anonymity. “Before the protest, we were only 7 percent of the population and not worth paying attention to. But suddenly during the protest, we ballooned into 33 million people and were the only ones at any of the protests. No Muslims, no secular people, just us.”
The timing of the attacks has led many Copts to speculate that they were planned and not spontaneous.
“It had to be pre-planned,” the pastor said about the attack on The Church of Mar-Girgis in Assuit. “It happened at the exact time the attacks happened in Cairo.”
The attacks were scattered across the country, from The Church of Mar-Girgis, which was attacked in Arish in the northeast Sinai Peninsula, to a handful of churches in Giza outside of Cairo, to churches and religious facilities in Upper Egypt. Most of the attacks happened in Minya Governorate, with the city of Assuit following close behind. The attacks happened across theological lines; it appears no denomination was spared.
The government has ordered a curfew in most cities and declared a “state of emergency,” a form of martial law. Copts are responding to the attacks with a mixture of sadness, fear and anger. Part of the anger, said Mina Thabet, spokesman of the Maspero Students Union, is the belief that the world has abandoned the Copts.
“They just can’t see the Copts are a religious minority who are being attacked,” he said. “They’re attacking, killing, burning. … And some [Copts] have nothing left. I am afraid for the coming days. The [Western governments] have left us unsecured. I think it’s the next form of genocide.”
The attacks on the church buildings have devastated the Copts most of all, even more than the attacks on their homes and businesses, Ibrahim said.
“I’m very sad – everyone is very sad,” he said. “They’re not just attacking Coptic-owned businesses, they are attacking our churches. It’s not only one; it’s four if not more. But we know God is protecting his word. [Everyone] is very scared. Everyone is staying at home, especially because of the curfew. Now nobody knows what is going on outside – but we will see in the morning.”
Photo: St. George Church in Sohag, one of more than two dozen Egyptian church buildings attacked on Wednesday, Aug. 14 (Watani)
c. 2013 Morning Star News. Used with permission.
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Publication date: August 15, 2013