Christian nuns are paraded through the streets like prisoners of war. Scores of churches and Christian schools smolder in vandalized ruins. Christian children are being gunned down on the street.
A young Egyptian Christian surveys the ruins of his church
"The words are heavy to put together this morning,” writes an anguished Egyptian Christian leader. “The sad day of yesterday,” he wrote to the Netherlands-based Christian advocacy group Open Doors, “resulted in a sleepless night not only for me, but also for millions of Christian and Muslim Egyptians who love this country and genuinely seek its good and welfare.”
After decades of relative stability in the volatile Middle East, Egypt has descended into violence. The militant Muslim Brotherhood is calling for armed confrontation with the Egyptian military, which deposed Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi – and Egypt’s 7 million Christians are being targeted by angry mobs.
Rioters target a Coptic church
Chaos has ensued with the United States supporting the anti-American, but freely elected, Muslim Brotherhood-backed ex-president and cutting off aid to the military. That move by the Obama Administration came after Egyptian forces launched a bloody crackdown on Brotherhood street protests. Iran stepped up to support the protesters while Russia and Saudi Arabia bolstered their support of
the military – which is also quietly supported by the government of neighboring Israel.
Outside a torched Christian-owned business
Caught in the crossfire were Egypt’s Christians. Egypt’s Coptic church traces its roots back 2,000 years to the Day of Pentecost when Egyptian pilgrims to Jerusalem were among the Apostle Peter’s first converts as he preached from Solomon’s Porch. Egyptian Copts constitute the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Most adhere to the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria while around 800,000 are divided between the Coptic Catholic Church and various Protestant churches.
An Egyptian Coptic church building burns
As violence erupted nationwide, coordinated attacks were launched against churches, schools, monasteries, businesses and individual Christians – including the daylight gunning down of a 10-year-old girl carrying a Bible.“It was a day of many tears, pain and agony,” wrote the unnamed Christian leader to Open Doors, which withheld his identity out of fear for his safety. “According to the official report of the Egyptian Ministry of Health, there were 235 deaths and 2,001 injuries.”
“Islamists burned down a Christian school, paraded three nuns on the streets like ‘prisoners of war,’ and sexually abused two other female staff even as at least 58 attacks on Christians and their property were reported across Egypt over the last four days. At least two Christians
have died in the attacks,” reported Anugrah Kumar for the Christian Post newspaper.
“The murder last week of the 10-year-old girl, Jessica Boulos, as she was walking back home from her Bible study class at one of Cairo’s evangelical churches by a fanatic Muslim gunman is unbearable,” the unnamed church leader told Open Doors, “and continues to throw its shadows of pain on her broken family and the entire Christian community of Egypt. “In all of this mess, the loss of church buildings great, but not to be compared with the loss of the many souls, the pains of the wounds and the fear and anxiety that have filled the hearts of all that can yet happen in Egypt today and the days to come. Buildings can eventually be re-built, but when lost, souls can never be restored.”
Coptic Christians plead for help.
Throughout Egypt, Islamist supporters of ousted Muslim Brotherhood leader President Morsi attacked churches, Christian institutions, homes and shops after Egyptian security forces cleared two of their sit-in camps in Cairo, according Asia News citing sources from the Catholic Church in Egypt.
Samia Sidhom, managing editor of Watani, a Cairo news service with a focus on Coptic Christian issues, told World Watch Monitor the situation for Egyptian Christians is “very bad,” as Christian homes are under attack.
“The Islamists have again been on a rampage against Copts and churches. It's bad in Mallawi and Minya - very bad. The Catholic church and the Good Shepherd school have been burned; also the Evangelical church. But worse, they're attacking the Christians in their homes. Ten houses have been attacked, and now they're attacking shops too,” says Sidhom.
The Coptic Orthodox bishopric in Mallawi and the 4th Century desert monastery of Abu Fana have also been attacked. In Cairo, Sidhom says “the Islamists tried to break into the Giza bishopric but were confronted by the army and stopped. A friend who lives close by says
they fled to the side streets, cursing the army and shouting abuse at them for defending the church. And also in Cairo, the Islamists attempted to break into the Mar-Girgis church on the Nile Corniche to Helwan, but Muslims in the neighborhood rushed to defend the church and forced the Islamists to turn back.”
“Assailants attacked a women-only monastery along with at least two Christian schools and set at least 30 Coptic-owned homes across the country on fire, along with scores of businesses. They also destroyed three Bible Society stores,” reported Morning Star News
A mob burns Christian literature outside a Christian-owned business
“Wael Ibrahim, manager of the Assuit branch of the Egyptian Bible Society, watched helplessly from a distance as a group of Morsi supporters circled his store several times at 9:15 a.m., threatening to attack any Christian who approached. He left only to receive a cell phone call informing him that his store was on fire,” reported Morning Star.
“I watched from afar, and I saw the Muslim Brotherhood people divide up into teams of 10 to attack anyone who approached the store,” Ibrahim told Morning Star. “I eventually left and I called the police because it was all I could do. I left, and half an hour later I got a call, and someone told me the Bible Society was on fire, so I quickly went back. But I couldn’t get close enough to defend the place.”
Coptic Christians pray for help
Ibrahim told Morning Star he watched the Bible Society structure burn down, and then the mob set fire, one-by-one, to every Christian-owned store in the area. “They didn’t just attack the store, they attacked the café and every store on the street that had any connection with Christians – they destroyed so many stores,” he said, adding that
the Bible Society lost all merchandise and literature. “All the books were burned. There is nothing left.”
Egyptian Christians worry about their children
Among those killed were Christian leader Iskander Rizk Allah from Delga and Rami Zakria of Alexandria.
A pastor and his wife were kidnapped from their Seventh-day Adventist church in Assuit, According to the Coptic newspaper Watani.
Egypt has one of the longest recorded histories of any modern state, having been continuously inhabited since at least the 10th millennium BC. It is the most populous Arab nation with 84 million people, the 15th largest population in the world. Of its 390,000 square miles, most is barren desert. Only about 15,000 square miles are populated – along the Nile River. Half of the population lives in densely settled urban Cairo, Alexandria and the Nile Delta.
It was there that the attacks “constituted the largest assault on the Christian community in Egypt, though the number of casualties is still unknown,” reported Morning Star.
Morsi supporters also attacked 21 police stations, killing 43 policemen. “Immediately before and after Morsi’s ouster, his supporters had repeatedly blamed the Christian minority for the protests that led to his removal from office. In sermons across the country, numerous imams called for Christians to be attacked, according to human rights activists,” reported Morning Star.
A burned out Coptic church
“I believe they are angry because they created a story where the Christians are to blame for the collapse of Morsi,” said one evangelical Coptic lay pastor who requested anonymity. The timing has led many
Copts to speculate that the attacks were planned and not spontaneous.
“It had to be pre-planned,” the pastor said about the attack on the Church of Mar-Girgis in Assuit. “It happened at the exact time the attacks happened in Cairo.”
Copts are responding to the attacks with a mixture of sadness, fear and anger, said Mina Thabet, spokesman of the Maspero Students Union. Part of the deep sadness, Thabet told Morning Star, is the belief that the world has abandoned the Egyptian Christians.
“Some Copts have nothing left. I am afraid for the coming days. The Western governments have left us unsecured. I think it’s the next form of genocide.”
“I’m very sad – everyone is very sad,” he said. “They’re not just attacking Coptic-owned businesses, they are attacking our churches. But we know God is protecting his word. Everyone is very scared”
In the town of al-Nazla, militants “ marked Christian homes and shops with red graffiti,” reported Kristen Chick in the Christian Post – targeting them for destruction. A local mosque broadcast through its loudspeakers that Christians were attacking protesters in Cairo. “Hundreds of villagers marched on the Saint Virgin Mary Church,” reported the Post. “They broke down the gate and flooded the compound, shouting ‘Allahu akbar’ and ‘Islam is the solution,’ according to Christian neighbors.
Copts worship in their burned out church sanctuary.
“‘First they stole the valuable things, and then they torched the place,’ says Sami Awad, a church member who lives across the narrow dirt alley from the church. ‘Whatever they couldn’t carry, they burned.’”
“Many of us involved in Christian ministry in Egypt are appalled at the misunderstandings about the situation in Egypt being propagated by even normally balanced international media like the BBC, and the way it has, in general, portrayed the Muslim Brotherhood as the victims of injustice,” writes Dr. Terence Ascott of the Cyprus-based Christian advocacy group SAT-7 International.
“So, on behalf of myself, Ramez Atallah (General Secretary for The Bible Society of Egypt), Pastor Fayez Ishaq (part of the leadership team at Kasr El Dubarrah Evangelical Church), other ministry leaders in Egypt and the leadership of Middle East Concern, please allow me to paint a bigger picture of what has been going on the past year or so:
“Yes, former President Morsi was elected ‘democratically’ in June 2012, but only by the slimmest of majorities, and only 13 million people (out of a total population of 83 million) voted for Morsi at all. And yet he took this as a mandate to do as he wanted, with a winner-takes-all attitude. His new government was not inclusive and he quickly appointed former Muslim Brotherhood leaders (some with previous convictions for violence or incitement to violence) to serve as regional governors or government ministers.
A burned image of the Virgin Mary
“In November 2012, he illegally gave himself new sweeping powers to act without censure, and rushed through a new pro-Islamic constitution despite the protests and boycotts from liberals, moderate Muslims and Christians, and then he refused to call for new elections – as had previously been agreed to do after a new constitution had been adopted.
“And, of course, the economy was very poorly managed by the new ministers, whose only apparent qualification for office was the fact that they were Muslim Brotherhood loyalists. By the end of 2012 the country’s infrastructure had begun to fall apart, electricity and fuel supplies became unreliable, prices for basic commodities soared and Egypt struggled to get much needed international financing.
“By June 30, 2013, on the first anniversary of Morsi’s election to office, the Egyptian people had had enough! Perhaps as many as 30 million people came out to demonstrate against Morsi continuing in office – this included many who had voted for Morsi a year before and, even if the figure of 30 million cannot be independently verified, it is clear that the number of people on the street was far more than the number of people who had ever voted for Morsi.
“But, unlike the president of any normal democracy, he refused to go, or even seek a renewed mandate through new elections – confirming to many that the Muslim Brotherhood were just using the new democracy in Egypt to establish a theocracy.
Soldiers outside a burned-out church building
“In a situation like this, the last line of defense for democracy is the army. They alone have the power to re-start the democratic process and, by very popular demand and with due notice, the army did step in and remove the former President – to the absolute delight and relief of most Egyptians!
“In the past six weeks the Muslim Brotherhood has occupied a number of public spaces, to demonstrate for the reinstatement of the former president (currently being held by the army and facing charges related to abuse of power, including substantial material and intelligence support to Hamas).
“Unlike the peaceful occupation of Tahrir Square by demonstrators in January 2011, and again at the end of June 2013, these Muslim Brotherhood occupations were dominated by calls for violence against the army, the police, the liberals and, specifically, the Coptic Christians in Egypt – all resulting in the violence witnessed on Aug. 14, when police stations, hospitals, private and public property were destroyed.
“Many Christian churches, homes and businesses were also attacked, as well as a monastery, three religious societies, three key bookshops belonging to the Bible Society in Egypt, three Christian schools and an orphanage.
Another church in flames
“The Coptic Orthodox Pope, Tawadrous II, made a statement about the attacks on churches this week, saying that ‘this had been expected and, as Egyptians and Christians, we are considering our church buildings as a sacrifice to be made for our beloved Egypt’. Other church leaders have made similar statements, stressing that church buildings don’t make the Church but the church is the Body of Christ, made of people who have their faith in Him, and that is getting stronger as it passes through these challenging times.
“It is also important and encouraging to note that some Muslims went to protect churches and that, in return, many Christians then sent messages to their fellow Muslim citizens saying, ‘buildings can be rebuilt again, but you are priceless, so stay safe, and don’t worry about the churches.’”
“The Muslim Brotherhood have been, and remain very effective in portraying themselves as the victims to the media, pointing to how Morsi had been ‘democratically’ elected and that the army ‘coup’ was a major setback to the country’s democratic progress. They have known what buttons to push with the Western press and this seems to be the version that most of the World is hearing – but it is not a version of truth that resonates with the vast majority of Egyptians.
A church building smolders the morning after Muslim Brotherhood riots
“And, while the loss of life these past few days has been most regrettable it has not only been Muslim Brotherhood supporters that have died, and there has been scant reporting on the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to destabilize Egypt, its calls for violence against the government and its supporters; and there has been a total lack of reporting concerning weapons that the Brotherhood had in the camps and used against the army as it sought to dismantle the sit-ins.
“In closing, can I ask for your prayers for this important country – the largest in the Arab World, with the largest Christian Community in the Middle East.
Please pray that the current violence will end soon, the effective rule of law and order will be re-established for the benefit of all citizens, there will be effective protection of church and other property against attacks by extremists, Egypt will be governed for the benefit of all its citizens, with people of different persuasions able to live alongside one another peaceably, and that Egyptian Christians will have opportunity to play an increasingly prominent and effective role in addressing the needs of all Egyptians and helping to bring healing and reconciliation in the country.”
“This is not the time to sit to at a discussion table to decide who is right and who is wrong or what should or should not have been done in the first place,” wrote the church leader to Open Doors. “I can pretty much go further to say that it’s not even the time to weep over tens of churches, Christian buildings, schools, Bible bookshops, shops and houses of Christians that have never systematically been targeted, looted, attacked or burnt down like what happened in Minya, Assiut, Sohag and several other cities.
Church members sift through the rubble
“We see and hear angry Muslim Brotherhood members coming on TV screens threatening to burn Egypt down entirely to form what is so called ‘Egypt’s free army’ and fight against the current army to accelerate the battle with the Jihadists in Sinai and that Egyptians will not be able to sleep until former president Morsi is back into office.
“Please continue to pray for my country. Those are the hardest days we’ve ever witnessed. Peaceful Egypt is now soaked into violence, hatred and desire to revenge. My heart and the hearts of millions of Christian and Muslim Egyptians are bleeding as we see Egypt turning into a strange country we never knew before.”
Egyptian Christians wonder what the future holds.