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Egyptian Christians depend on Muslims to resist violence

23 August 2013


The burnt-out shell of the Evangelical church in Mallawi, in the Minya governate, destroyed in last week's violence

The burnt-out shell of the Evangelical church in Mallawi, in the Minya governate, destroyed in last week's violence

CHRISTIANS in Egypt, still in shock after the wave of attacks on churches and other property over the past week, say that they remain confident of their future in the country. They live side by side with the majority of Muslims who, they say, do not share the aims of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The attacks were carried out by supporters of the Brotherhood and other Islamists, in reaction to the brutal break-up of two protest camps in Cairo populated by supporters of the deposed President, Mohammed Morsi.

The Cairo-based President-Bishop of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Most Revd Mouneer Anis, said on Tuesday that Egyptians had lived through "a traumatic week".

"We witnessed bloodshed on our streets, vandalism, and the deliberate destruction of churches and government buildings in lawless acts of revenge by the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters."

The anger felt by Christians at the attacks on their property is matched by dismay at what they regard as the West's reluctance to condemn either the Brotherhood's failure in government or the use of violence by its supporters since Mr Morsi's dismissal and arrest.

Bishop Anis said that the military's removal of the Muslim Brotherhood from power was morally justifiable: it had the backing of more than 30 million people, who had taken to the streets to demand it. He was surprised and disappointed that the US and European governments had "criticised the Egyptian authorities for confronting the subsequent pro-Morsi demonstrations, which they wrongly described as peaceful".

The Bishop questioned "what any developed country would do if a group of people cut off a piece of a city and controlled it the way the Brotherhood controlled two sections of Cairo". Bishop Anis added that the Muslim Brotherhood had rejected all pleas from the government to disperse peacefully.

The general secretary of the Bible Society of Egypt, Ramez Atallah, echoing the Bishop's sentiments, told the Church Times on Tuesday that Egyptians "don't understand why the West has been so duped by the Muslim Brotherhood. . . It's very frustrating that the West believes that the Brotherhood is a peaceful organisation. It seems that their PR apparatus mesmerised foreign governments."

Two Bible Society shops in southern Egypt, in Assiut and Minia, were destroyed by fire last week. Mr Atallah said that the violence was premeditated: "The Muslim Brotherhood had put marks on the shops and other Christian buildings. When they heard that the pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo had been dispersed, they carried out their threat."

Mr Atallah has appealed to Bible Societies around the world to raise £77,000 to rebuild the bookshops.

Egyptian Christians are also keen to make the world understand that there is a fundamental difference between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the country's Muslims. "The very vast majority of Muslims are peace-loving people who want the Christians to continue living as co-citizens in Egypt," Mr Atallah said. "This war is not between Christians and Muslims, but [between] the Muslim Brotherhood and the Egyptian people."

Mr Atallah said that the Brotherhood and their supporters had picked soft targets to attack - churches, shops, and museums. But on many occasions Muslims had joined Christians in trying to protect property.

"As Christians, we feel very safe in the kind of Egypt we saw when many millions, Christians and Muslims, took to the streets to demand the end of Brotherhood rule. The Muslim Brotherhood want an Islamic state. The majority of Egyptians don't: they are against political Islam.

The leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, publicly backed the army's move against President Morsi's administration. The Coptic Church issued a statement last weekend saying that it stood by the army and the police in their fight against "the armed, violent groups and black terrorism".

While Egypt looks certain to endure several weeks, if not months, of instability, the clear aim of the country's military leadership is to crush the Muslim Brotherhood as a political power by arresting and imprisoning its leaders. The group's spiritual guide, Mohammed Badie, was detained on Tuesday. While it is impossible to assess how much backing the military has for its moves, it is clear that many Egyptians see this as the only way forward, given the impossibility of a mediated end to the crisis.

Although Egypt appears to be in a state of chaos, there is little likelihood of its following the paths of either Libya or Syria. In the former, there is no effective central government; and in the latter, the central authorities are under siege from elements of their own army, among others. The Egyptian army and security forces, by contrast, have held together and enjoy substantial public support.

As Coptic Bishop Youhanna Golta of Alexandria told the online Arab West Report: "Civil war is when a part of the country turns against the other part. This is not the case in Egypt."

Christians in Egypt will, nevertheless, need time to recover from the trauma of the past week. The principal of a Franciscan school in the southern town of Bani Suef, Sister Manal, along with other nuns and members of staff, were trapped in the building for six hours while it came under attack. By the time the Islamists allowed them to leave, the 115-year-old building was on fire. Money saved for a new school had disappeared, as had all the computers and other equipment.

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