Tags: morsi | egypt | churches | burned

Islamist Militants Target Egyptian Christians, Torch Churches

By    |   Thursday, 22 Aug 2013 04:52 PM

The Saint Virgin Mary Church in al-Nazla, Egypt, is one of 47 churches and monasteries that have been burned, robbed, or attacked since Aug. 14 in a wave of anti-Christian violence following the police crackdown on former President Mohamed Morsi’s supporters, according to a prominent Egyptian human-rights group.

Ishak Ibrahim of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights said dozens of Christian schools, other religious buildings, homes, and shops have also been attacked and burned, and seven Christians killed. Police have done little to stop the attacks.

There have been reports of Muslims behaving heroically, including one photo widely circulated on the Internet which shows 20 Islamic men holding hands while standing in line in front of a large cathedral - protecting the church from attacks and vandalism while congregants attended mass inside.

But there have also been many reports of Islamist intimidation and/or violence directed at Christians, particularly in al-Nazla.

In that town, located about 60 miles southwest of Cairo, the situation took a dark turn on June 30 when millions of Egyptians took to the streets to protest against then-President Morsi.

On that day, some al-Nazla residents marked Christian homes and shops with red graffiti, vowing to protect Mr. Morsi's electoral legitimacy with “blood,” the Christian Science Monitor reported.

Relations between Christians and Muslims in the village, which had worsened since Morsi's election in 2012, grew even more tense as Islamists spread rumors that Christians (who comprise roughly 10 percent of the population) were behind the anti-Morsi protests and his ouster by the military July 3.

Finally, on the morning of Aug. 14, the tension erupted. In Cairo, the police attacked two protest camps full of Morsi supporters, using live ammunition and killing hundreds. When the news reached al-Nazla, a local mosque broadcast through its loudspeakers that Christians were attacking the protesters, say residents. Hundreds of villagers marched on the Saint Virgin Mary Church. They broke down the gate and flooded the compound, shouting “Allahu akbar” and “Islam is the solution,” according to Christian neighbors.

“First they stole the valuable things, and then they torched the place,” said Sami Awad, a church member who lives across the narrow dirt alley from the church. “Whatever they couldn't carry, they burned.”

Interviewed at al-Nazla-area churches on Monday, Christians reported spending days in their homes after recognizing some of their neighbors in the attacking mobs, the New York Times reported.

The St. Virgin Mary, al-Nazla’s new Coptic Orthodox church, had just opened in April after 13 years of construction, in a country where the government strictly curtails building permits for churches. Now, the Monitor reports, its elaborate dome stands above a ruined, charred interior. The walls are blackened and rubble litters the floor. A picture of Jesus is half burned, the charred edges curling where they were licked by flames.

“The religion of God is Islam,” reads graffiti sprayed in yellow on a wall of the church. Three burned-out cars, one of them upside down, rest in the courtyard. Next to the gate, sprayed in black, is another phrase: “Victory or martyrdom.”

Similar attacks occurred across the country. In Sohag, a large church was burned and a guard outside a church shot. In Minya and Assiut, multiple churches and dozens of Christian properties were attacked and burned. In many places, police stations were also attacked.

A spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party vociferously denied responsibility for the anti-Christian violence. The party said in a statement last week that the party “stands firmly against any attack – even verbal – against churches.” Brotherhood members and a spokesman have accused the security apparatus of carrying out the church attacks in an attempt to smear Islamists, according to the Monitor.

The Brotherhood said Facebook pages inciting religious violence under the party's name were fraudulent.

However, the Monitor reported that one page that appears to be the authentic Facebook page for the FJP in Helwan, south of Cairo, listed accusations against the church, before concluding: “After all this people ask why they burn churches.” The page noted that “burning houses of worship is a crime,” but added: “For every action, there is a reaction.”








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The Saint Virgin Mary Church in al-Nazla, Egypt, is one of 47 churches and monasteries that have been burned, robbed, or attacked since Aug. 14 in a wave of anti-Christian violence following thepolice crackdown on former President Mohamed Morsi's supporters, according toa...
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Thursday, 22 Aug 2013 04:52 PM
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