CHRISTIANS in Egypt are enduring an unprecedented wave of
attacks on people and property as Islamists seek revenge for the
churches' support for the military's action in forcing the Muslim
Brotherhood out of power. The army's brutal storming on Wednesday
of two protest camps manned by supporters of the deposed President
Mohammed Morsi, in which at least 640 people were killed, triggered
the Islamist onslaught on Christian targets.
Although there are no accurate figures, it is estimated that
about 70 churches or Christian institutions across Egypt have been
attacked, many of them set on fire. One of the targets was St
Saviour's, an Anglican church in Suez.
In a message to his diocese as the attack was happening, the
President-Bishop in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd
Mouneer Anis, said that supporters of the deposed president were
"throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at the church".
The priest of St Saviour's, the Revd Ehab Ayoub, was trapped
inside for several hours, along with his family and a lay minister.
The Chaplain to Bishop Anis, the Revd Drew Schmotzer, told the
Anglican Communion News Service that the attackers "tried to get
through the windows, but our steel bars prevented it". After "a
long morning", the army arrived, and secured a safe exit for those
who had been trapped.
The highest number of anti-Christian incidents have occurred in
the south of the country. Two Bible Society bookshops, in Assiut
and Minia, were set on fire and destroyed. No one was in them at
the time. The General Director of the Egyptian Bible Society, Ramez
Atallah, said that the attackers "demolished the metal doors
protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them, and
set the shops on fire". He described the incidents as attacks
"against the state by a violent minority . . . in an attempt to
destabilise the nation". The Bible Society said that these were the
first attacks of their kind in 129 years of operating in
The YMCA in Minia was also attacked, as were Christian-owned
shops, hotels, and businesses in several towns in the region.
A spokesman for the military in Egypt said that the army would
rebuild the churches that were attacked, adding that the work would
"start right away". He went on to say that the authorities were
"clearing up sites and starting investigations. It is a national
and historical obligation, we cannot let these people down."
On Thursday, President Obama said that as a result of
Wednesday's events the United States is cancelling a biannual joint
military exercise with Egypt, which had been scheduled for
The US "deplored" violence against civilians, he said, and he
extended condolences to the families of all those who were killed
He said that the Egyptian people "deserve better than what we've
seen over the last several days", and "to the Egyptian people, let
me say the cycle of violence and escalation needs to stop. . .
"America will work with all those in Egypt and around the world
who support a future of stability that rests on a foundation of
justice and peace and dignity."
Condemnation of the violence in Egypt has come from around the
world. The Bishop of Wakefield, the Rt Revd Stephen Platten, the
Church of England's lead Bishop on Foreign Affairs, said that the
state of emergency in Egypt "following the carnage and increasing
death toll of recent days is a matter of grave concern for those
within and outside the region. The heavy loss of life is deeply
disturbing, and points to the urgent need for resolution and
restraint from government forces."
Christian Aid urged "all parties to end the violence, and work
towards a peaceful resolution which will allow all Egyptians to
have a voice in defining their future, and the future of the
country. We call on the international community to do all that it
can to bring about a peaceful solution as quickly as possible."
Pope Francis said that he was saddened by "the painful news
coming out of Egypt", and offered prayers for all the victims and
their families. The General Secretary of the World Council of
Churches, the Revd Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, said: "The only way forward
is for mutual recognition as equal citizens within Egypt, sharing
responsibilities and authority, accepting the diversity of
political opinions and religious beliefs."
In Canada, the Ambassador of Religious Freedom, Dr Andrew
Bennett, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, John Baird, said in a
joint statement that "attacks on places of worship are
unacceptable. . . On behalf of all Canadians, we would like to
extend our deepest sympathies to the victims of these attacks, and
wish a speedy recovery to the injured."
Even before Wednesday's events, the intensification of
anti-Christian sentiment among elements of the Muslim Brotherhood,
and other Islamist groups in Egypt had prompted the leader of the
Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, to cancel his weekly
public sermon and meeting with his followers in St Mark's Cathedral
in Cairo. The venue has been moved to a secluded monastery outside
Islamist preachers over recent weeks have been calling for the
removal of Christians from Egypt, and at times have urged Muslims
to attack church property. Pope Tawadros is said to have received
death threats. A spokesman for the Roman Catholic Church in Egypt,
Fr Rafic Greiche, said that there was a fear among Christians that
the Pope might be targeted, adding: "Since the fall of the Mohammed
Morsi administration, attacks and acts of intimidation against the
Christian minority have occurred on a daily basis."
The hostility felt by Islamists stems from the public support
that Pope Tawadros and other Christian leaders in Egypt gave to the
military when it intervened to suspend the constitution and remove
President Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood figures from power.
Islamists are denouncing Copts and other Egyptian Christians as
enemies of Islam and agents of the West.
So, having abandoned their tradition of avoiding controversy and
staying outside politics, the Copts and other Christians find
themselves trapped in one segment of the polarisation that is
paralysing the country. A youth wing within the Coptic Church - the
Maspero Movement - called on Copts to organise politically to
demand state protection.
Dealing with demands for Copts to become more politicised is one
of the challenges that Pope Tawadros faces. At the same time,
conservative elements within the Church favour playing a low-key
part in society, as was the case for several decades.
ST SAVIOUR's, an Anglican church in Suez, came under
"heavy attack" from supporters of President Morsi on Wednesday,
writes Ed Thornton.
In a letter to his diocese, the President-Bishop in
Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, said
that, as he wrote, supporters of the President were "throwing
stones and Molotov cocktails at the church. . ."
There had also been attacks on Orthodox churches in
Minya and Sohag, and a Roman Catholic church in Suez, he said.
"Some police stations are also under attack in different parts of
Early on Wednesday morning, Bishop Anis said, the police
and army had encouraged protesters in Cairo "to leave safely and go
home. . . The police created very safe passages for everyone to
leave. Many protesters left and went home." Others resisted, he
said, and started to attack the police. "The police and army were
very professional in responding to the attacks, and they used tear
gas only when it was necessary."
Supporters of President Morsi had threatened to move to
other locations, Bishop Anis said. "Please pray that the situation
will calm down, for wisdom and tact for the police and the army,
for the safety of all churches and congregations, and that all in
Egypt would be safe."