Egypt: Coptic Churches Targeted as Violence Continues

 St. George Church in Sohag, one of more than two dozen Egyptian church buildings attacked on Wednesday, Aug. 14 (Watani)

In Egypt, violent clashes between forces of Egypt’s interim government and supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi have resulted in the deaths of more than 500 people. The deaths occurred in Cairo on Wednesday, as government forces moved to dismantle two massive protest camps set up by Morsi supporters.

In the wake of the bloodshed, Egypt’s interim government has established a 30-day state of emergency, increasing the power of security forces to arrest people without warrants. A curfew has been put in place from 9 p.m. – 6 a.m. each night.

Today, one day after deaths of hundreds of people, the streets of Cairo are reportedly calm. Banks and the stock market are closed, with many people staying home out of fear of prolonged violence.

President Obama addressed the nation on Thursday, cancelling a biannual joint military exercise with Egypt and condemning the violence that has rocked Cairo in recent days.

“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt's interim government and security forces,” the president said.  “We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest. We oppose the pursuit of martial law, which denies those rights to citizens under the principle that security trumps individual freedom or that might makes right. And today the United States extends its condolences to the families or those who were killed and those who were wounded.”

During the ousting of Morsi’s government, many of Egypt’s Christians participated in protests against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Now, fueled by anger over attacks by the interim government, the Muslim Brotherhood is taking out its wrath on Egypt’s Christian community.

On Wednesday USA Today published a map of Christian churches and institutions being targeted throughout the country. More than 45 churches throughout Egypt have been reportedly burned or attacked.

Ahmed Wadea, a resident of Minya, where 12 churches were attacked, told Egypt Independent that most people in the community could recognize the perpetrators. “They were Muslim Brotherhood members aided by members of extremists groups,” he said.

Youssef Sidhom, who serves as editor-in-chief of the Christian weekly Watani, says the attacks will worsen if they continue to drive a wedge between Christians and Muslims in the country.

“Christians shouldn't be moved by this, shouldn't be dragged to fulfill the target that lies behind this, which is segregating the national solidarity between Christians and Muslims in the very difficult time Egypt is passing through,” he said.

President Obama said that the U.S. appreciates the complexity of the situation in Egypt. “While Mohammed Morsi was elected president in a democratic election, his government was not inclusive and did not respect the views of all Egyptians,” he said on Thursday, adding, “Let me make one final point. America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That's a task for the Egyptian people. We don't take sides with any particular party or political figure. I know it's tempting inside of Egypt to blame the United States or the West or some other outside actor for what's gone wrong.”

On Thursday Bishop Serapion of the Coptic Orthodox Diocese of Los Angeles released a statement condemning the violence against Christians.

“We follow the current events in our beloved Egypt with lifted hearts praying to our beloved God that He has compassion on the beloved people of Egypt and alleviates the distress of terrorism and terrorists’ attacks,” he said.

“We strongly condemn the terrorist attacks on innocent people, churches, monasteries, Christian schools and property of Christians. What is happening against innocent Copts is the result of the suffering of Christians for many decades of hate speech and incitement against them and the repeated attacks on their lives and their churches and their property with the inability of the consecutive governments to provide them with security, safety, and the rights of citizenship.”

In Egypt, human rights groups have accused the Muslim Brotherhood and radical Islamist groups of inciting attacks against Christians.

“Copts are paying the price of the inflammatory rhetoric against them coming from some Islamist leaders and supporters of the former president, who accuse Coptic spiritual leaders of conspiring to foment army intervention to remove Dr. Morsi,” according to Ishak Ibrahim, at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.

For Margaret Naby, a Christian in Egypt, the scenario she sees is a desperate one. “I'm not scared, but I'm very sad about the situation in the country – the relationship between Muslims and Christians,” she said. “There is so much fanaticism.”