Churches across Egypt under attack in Islamist backlash
Reports compiled from NBC News, World Watch Monitor and Watani International
Egypt descended into a chaotic bloodbath – and another political crisis today (Wednesday, August 14) after security forces backed by bulldozers moved into opposition protest camps set up by supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi, sparking deadly violence.
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- Death toll in Wednesday’s unrest in Cairo is 500
- CNN reports that Bishop Angaelos, the Cairo-born head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said he was told by colleagues in Egypt that 52 churches were attacked in a 24-hour span that started Wednesday, as well as numerous Christians’ homes and businesses.
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At least 149 people were killed and 1 403 injured, the country’s health ministry said, but the toll looked certain to rise as unrest spread from Cairo to other parts of the country. Sky News cameraman Mick Deane, 61, and Gulf News reporter, Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, were both shot dead while covering the violence in Cairo. More than 300 people have already died in political violence since the army deposed Morsi on July 3, exactly 12 months into his four-year term as president.
Egypt’s interim president Adly Mansour has declared a monthlong state of emergency and night-time curfews in some areas. Meanwhile interim vice president, Mohamed ElBaradei, resigned today in protest of the army crackdown, saying that “the beneficiaries of what happened today are those who call for violence, terrorism and the most extreme groups”.
Once news got around that Egyptian authorities were breaking up the sit-ins by the Islamist Morsi supporters at the east Cairo district of Rabaa al-Adawiya and the Nahda Square in Giza, west of Cairo, Islamists in various places in Egypt waged violent attacks against Copts and churches.
Coordinated attacks on churches
“We’ve seen attacks like this before, but not of this severity and coordination. There have been attacks before on an individual level, but these are mobs attacking simultaneously in governorates and these attacks are directly related to the dispersals of the sit-ins,” said Ishak Ibrahim, of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
United States Secretary of State John Kerry says the US “strongly condemns today’s violence and bloodshed across Egypt, noting “it’s a serious blow to reconciliation” and the people’s hopes for a transition to democracy. The military’s action was also condemned by the United Nations.
Eight leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested during the police operation and charged with inciting violence.
At field hospitals near the two camp locations, dozens of bodies were laid out as the injured sheltered from tear gas and gunfire.
At a hospital morgue, a Reuters reporter counted 29 bodies, including that of a 12-year-old boy. Most had died of gunshot wounds to the head.
Egypt’s interior ministry said only tear gas had been used to clear the sit camps, but a Reuters reporter said he saw about 20 protesters who had been shot in the legs by soldiers.
Pro-Morsi protesters were seen throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at troops, Reuters reported. Six police officers were killed and 12 injured during the operation.
The violent scenes prompted an angry backlash across Egypt, including attacks on churches and the killing of an air force colonel in a highway ambush.
In the town of Sohag, some 460km south of Egypt, Islamists broke into the bishopric and its church and set them on fire. According to Father Kyrillos of the bishopric, the fire had already eaten up the buildings by the time the fire truck arrived.
The Minya region, 240km south of Cairo, was scene to various attacks by the Islamists against the police and the Copts. Police stations in Matai and Beni-Mazar came under attack.
In the Coptic-majority village of Beni-Ahmed, which was the scene of recent attacks against the Copts by Islamists from the village and neighbouring villages, Mursi supporters started an attack against the Copts this morning but the police confronted them. And in the village of Dalga, also the scene of recent violence against Copts, the 5th-century Monastery of the Holy Virgin and Anba Abra’am was targeted. The place is no longer a monastery even though it retains the name; the grounds include three church and several community service buildings. Father Silwanis Lutfi told Watani that the Islamists broke into the grounds shouting Allahu Akbar, Allah is the Greatest, and set the churches on fire, as well as six buildings which house a clinic, a home for retreat, a pre-school nursery, and the bishop’s residence.
The Islamists also set fire to the church of Mar-Mina in the Abu-Hilal district south of the town of Minya, and also to a clinic which the church operates, again while shouting Islamist slogans. They surrounded churches in Samalout and Mallawi.
The security and police forces are under pressure since their efforts are fragmented in the many locations under attack in the governorate.
Two churches in the Fayoum villages of Nazla and Youssef al-Seddiq were burned, as well as the Society of the Holy Bible in the town of Fayoum, some 100km southwest of Cairo.
In the town of Suez, 100km east of Cairo, the police have received calls for help from the nuns of the Good Shepherd. Their convent, church and the school of the Good Shepherd were set on fire by the Islamists who also blocked the road to prevent the fire trucks from reaching the convent. Another Coptic church and a Greek church in the town were attacked.
Todays church attacks were launched against the backdrop of an anti-Christian backlash that has flared in pockets across Egypt since July 3, when the Egyptian military removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power. Though there have been many examples of Christians and Muslims breaking bread together and joining ranks to support moving the government off the Brotherhood’s Islamist path, the crescendo of violence has heightened Christian anxiety.
It has proven worrisome enough that Coptic Pope Tawadros II last week backed out of public appearances he had planned for this week at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo. He determined his presence could endanger the congregation, according to Bishop Angaelos, leader of the Coptic church in the United Kingdom, who revealed the pope’s change of plans to the BBC.
Also last week, 16 Egyptian human-rights groups issued a joint statement of “grave concern regarding the increasing sectarian violence which has targeted Christians and their churches since the June 30 uprising.”