War on Christians in Egypt
The Muslim Brotherhood has been holding Egypt’s Christian community responsible for the fall of the Morsi government, leading to a spate of “revenge” attacks that look like ethnic cleansing under a flimsy pretext of counter-counter-revolution. The UK Daily Mail reports on the latest incident:
A mob marched nuns through the battle-torn streets of Cairo ‘like prisoners of war’ in the latest outrage against Egypt’s Christian minority.
Sister Manal, principal of a Franciscan school in suburban Cairo, watched for six hours as a mob looted the building, knocked the cross off the gate and replaced it with a black banner resembling the flag of Al Qaeda.
The classrooms were then burned to the ground and the women taken away, attracting a crowd of abusive onlookers.
Police told Sister Manal that the nuns had been targeted by hardline Islamists, convinced that they had given Muslim children an inappropriate education.
‘We are nuns. We rely on God and the angels to protect us,’ she said. ‘At the end, they paraded us like prisoners of war and hurled abuse at us as they led us from one alley to another without telling us where they were taking us.’
Siblings Wardah and Bedour, two Christian women employed by the school, also found themselves having to fight their way through the mob while being groped, hit and insulted by the extremists.
Terrified Christians have been advised not to resist Islamist mobs and looters. Fox News illustrated the scale of the mayhem by compiling a map of violence and vandalism, which includes the looting or destruction of at least 47 churches and monasteries:
Deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak never got much credit for protecting the Egyptian Christian community, which fell on hard times after his ouster, and even harder times after the ouster of the Islamists who took over after he was gone. (It wasn’t exactly a pluralistic society brimming with religious freedom under Mubarak, but it was a golden age compared to what the Copts are going through now.) There are suspicions that the Muslim Brotherhood is laying waste to Coptic Christian property in an effort to lure other Islamists forces into the fight against the new Egyptian government:
“The Muslim Brotherhood continues its attacks on churches to implement their scheme, which includes ethnic cleansing and the forced displacement of Copts,” Abul Ezz el-Hariri, a Christian and former presidential candidate from Alexandria, told MidEast Christian News. “Egyptian churches are part of a blueprint by the MB to lure other Islamist groups.”
The violence has not been targeted exclusively at Christian religious buildings:
The campaign of intimidation also has targeted the homes and businesses of Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the nation’s population. Egypt’s Christian community is one of the world’s oldest, and generally kept a low-profile before becoming more active after the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak and the rapidly spiraling Islamification that followed under Morsi.
Under fire, Christians are solidly backing the military’s harsh crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt…confirms its strong stance with the Egyptian law enforcement, the armed forces, and all of the institutions of the Egyptian people in its confrontation of the violent armed organizations,” the nation’s Christian leader, Pope Tawadros II, said in a statement.
They would have good reason to fear the consequences if the Muslim Brotherhood managed to regain control of the government. The Christian Science Monitor reports that Brotherhood sympathizers have been marking Christian property with painted grafitti, including phrases like “The religion of God is Islam” and “Victory or martyrdom” written on a gutted church… which had only been in operation for a few months, following 13 years of construction.
The church is still open, with one member of the congregation declaring, “We have to pray no matter what happens. Even if they burn it to the ground, we will pray here.”
The situation is not entirely bleak, as some Muslims have stepped forward to help their besieged Christian neighbors:
Some Muslim neighbors tried to help put out the fire raging in the church, including Magdy Shaaban. They also successfully protected against attempts to break into or set fire to Christian homes and shops, but near the church, “there were so many attackers, we couldn’t stand against them,” he says.
As the Muslim call to prayer rang out near a monastery that was also looted and torched, Mr. Shaaban says villagers were angered by the Coptic pope’s support for the military and Morsi’s ouster. The attacks occurred when villagers attempting to join the Morsi supporters in Cairo found the roads closed, and turned back to attack the police station and the churches instead, he says. “They went to take revenge on the Christians.”
Shaaban voted for Morsi, and went to Rabaa el Adawiya several times to join the protest against his ouster. He said the attackers were not Muslim Brotherhood members, but “angry people.” He condemned the violence, and helped his neighbors, even allowing two Christian families to sleep at his house after the attacks, because “it’s my duty to protect my neighbors.”
The reaction of the vaunted “international community” to the violence against Egyptian Christians seems rather… muted. President Obama briefly mentioned it during his statement last week, saying “We call on those who are protesting to do so peacefully and condemn the attacks that we’ve seen by protesters, including on churches.”
That’s rather weak compared to the thundering denunciation we might expect if various other groups were subjected to ethnic cleansing tactics. The President was considerably more worked up about the YouTube video he and his Administration falsely blamed for the attack on the U.S. embassy in Benghazi. It’s not clear from the wording of Obama’s statement if he personally condemns the attacks on Egyptian Christians, or if he’s calling on the protesters to do so. Sometimes it makes a big difference to use words like “The United States condemns in the strongest possible terms…”
But it’s not just President Obama. No one seems inclined to put a foot down against the persecution of Coptic Christians. It’s an attitude of uncomfortable neglect the Christian refugees from Iraq know all too well.
Update: A remarkable and dismal indicator of the situation in Egypt: Christian churches have reportedly canceled Sunday Mass for the first time in 1,600 years.
Update: In a statement read on Egyptian television, the Defense Minister, General Sisi, “ordered the engineering department of the armed forces to swiftly repair all the affected churches, in recognition of the historical and national role played by our Coptic brothers.”