WHEN supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood set fire to Egyptian
churches and Christian-run businesses and social centres in August
last year (News,
23 August 2013), they intended to spark a civil war between the
country's majority Muslim and ten per cent Christian
Instead, the attacks united the majority of Christians and
Muslims in Egypt against a sectarian approach, and helped to
reinforce a new image of the country's Christians: that they were
patriotic Egyptians, too.
One of the worst-hit areas was the town of El Minya, about 140
miles south of Cairo. Engy Magdy took her youngest child, Ganna, to
the town's Amir Tadros Coptic Orthodox Church to be baptised; the
next day, the church had been gutted. The outer walls and stone
columns were all that remained.
But the 30-year-old mother-of-three described the attacks as a
"blessing", because the new church, which is being rebuilt by the
army, will be bigger than the previous church, and will have a
second storey (above).
Ms Magdy's view, that life for Christians in Egypt is better
after the attacks, is shared by many of the country's Christian
leaders, including Dr Ehab El Kharrat, whose consulting room in
Tahrir Square, Cairo, still bears the signs of bullet damage from
Dr Ehab was elected to the upper house of the country's
Parliament, the Shura Council, after the first revolution, and
chaired its Human Rights Commission. He also presents
Bridges, a weekly live current-affairs programme on the
Christian Arabic television channel Sat-7; and he credits the work
of Bridges as helping to change the way in which
Christians in Egypt are viewed.
"We have contributed to raising awareness . . . of the spiritual
principles in politics," he said. "We demand religious freedoms for
all. We put the public interest [before] the interest of our
churches. And maybe this contributed to what happened when people
got their churches burned, and they said: 'But the country is in a
better state; so we will build our churches again.'"
In the aftermath of the attacks, the leader of the Coptic
Orthodox Church, Pope Tawadros II, urged people not to protect the
buildings, and told Christians that they were the Church, not the
But perhaps the biggest transformation in the way in which
Christians are viewed in Egypt came about through the use of Kasr
El Dobara Evangelical Church, at the opposite end of Tahrir Square
from Dr Ehab's office, as a field hospital during the
"We felt there was a role for the church here," a volunteer
administrator, Eva Botros, said. "Usually, the church is isolated .
. . and the only connection we used to have between the church and
society was the community services.
"The situation in the Square was increasing and increasing until
the attacks turned to be like a war in the street. The wounded
people became unlimited, and some of the Muslim doctors who were
offering little field hospitals in the streets ran towards the wall
of our church and said: 'Can we hide our stuff?'
"I connected them with our Pastor, and said, 'We have doctors at
the door; they are being attacked by the army and by the police and
they can't make a field hospital.' In a very courageous way, he
said [to] help them inside the church. And that's how the field
The country's leading doctors from medical universities in Cairo
joined the volunteers, and ambulances brought the injured to be
The work of the church attracted national media attention:
"Every day we were on the TV," Ms Botros said. "They were saying:
What was going on in the square? What was going on all over Egypt?
And what was going on in Kasr El Dobara Church? It was as if the
Lord wanted to lift it up."
When a message went out on Twitter to say that the army was
attacking the church, members of the Egyptian parliament, religious
leaders, and other celebrities stood between the troops and the
church with a message that anybody attacking Kasr El Dobara was
attacking "the shelter of Egypt".
The importance of Kasr El Dobara Church in Egyptian culture was
demonstrated on New Year's Eve 2011, when an overnight
prayer-service was broadcast on Sat-7. Several of the mainstream
channels in Egypt began relaying Sat-7's coverage, leading hundreds
more people - from members of parliament to prominent Muslims - to
turn up at the church to take part in the service, which continued
until past 4 a.m. A weekly service from the church is now broadcast
live on Sat-7 every Friday afternoon.
The buildings on either side of the church were destroyed during
the revolution; and the church itself, in contrast to the churches
in El Minya, survived unscathed.
"God is good, and he has a plan for each church," Ms Botros
said. "Those churches that were on fire, the Lord is blessing them
now much more. . . The Lord turned all of this to be for his glory.
Maybe he used our church to be a field hospital to help people and
to treat them; and he used the other churches that were on fire to
be announcing his forgiveness."
Kasr El Dobara Church is now afforded official protection: an
armoured police van and several armed officers are stationed
outside the church; and visitors must go through airport-style
metal detectors before entering. When rumours of new protests
surface, a fire engine is sent on standby.
In El Minya, building work continues at the Amir Tadros church,
but that has not stopped the congregation returning to what remains
a construction site (health-and-safety rules are more relaxed in
Egypt than they are in the UK). Worshippers first returned to the
site for an impromptu service just two days after the attack; and,
today, Sunday services take place amid the sound of builders'
The Second Evangelical Presbyterian Church near by still carries
the marks from the Molotov cocktails that were thrown at it during
the August 2013 attacks. A number of its decorative, small
blue-glass square windows have melted; but the church itself was
"All of the churches came together. It was a very good sign that
people came together to pray for the country," Pastor Essam Ataia
said. And now: "It is a very good time for the church, because
people are now more open - very open; and easily you can speak with
people about the gospel.
"People are coming to us; they are open, ready to hear about the
gospel, and they are searching, waiting for people to go to
Gavin Drake visited Egypt as a guest of the Christian
television station Sat-7.
ON TUESDAY next week, Sat-7 will broadcast an official
visit made by the Egyptian Prime Minister, Ibrahim Mahlab, and Pope
Tawadros II to a church in Cairo that is revered by Copts as the
site where the Holy Family stayed after their flight from
Bethlehem. In a sign of the increasing recognition of Christian
institutions, it is the first time that the Egyptian government has
invited Sat-7 to be the official broadcaster of the
Sat-7 seeks to provide "culturally relevant" Christian
TV across the Middle East and North Africa. The network, whose
headquarters are in Cyprus, and which has broadcast stations in
Beirut, Istanbul, and Cairo, has four stations that serve
Arabic-, Farsi-, and Turkish-speakers; and
a dedicated Arabic-language channel for young people, Sat-7