Monday,24 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)
Monday,24 September, 2018
Issue 1158, (25 - 31 July 2013)

Ahram Weekly

Copts under attack

Copts across Egypt have been coming under attack since the 30 June Revolution, writes Michael Adel

Al-Ahram Weekly

The Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiya in Cairo is the seat of the pope of the Coptic Church. It also has seminaries, a dormitory for nuns, and a facility for the manufacture of clerical garments. Due to the recent sectarian tensions in the country, it also has a lot more security and far fewer visitors than it used to have before.
During the presidency of ousted former president Mohamed Morsi, the Coptic pope, Tawadros II, often complained that the government was neglecting the country’s Copts and trying to minimise their role in public life. This and Muslim Brotherhood practices prompted many Copts to try to leave the country.
Things have improved since the 30 June Revolution, which ousted the Brotherhood president. The scenes of jubilation in Cairo’s Tahrir Square at the news of Morsi’s deposition brought back memories of the sectarian harmony that took place during the 25 January Revolution, when Christians stood guard to protect Muslim worshippers and the followers of Christianity and Islam held copies of the Quran and crosses and chanted slogans of national unity.
The Copts have voiced their satisfaction with the political change attendant on the 30 June Revolution, and they have been quick to notice that the interim government contains three Christians, including liberal politician Fakhri Abdel-Nour, the minister of trade and commerce. There was only one Christian minister in Morsi’s government.
Attempts by the Brotherhood and its allies to dissuade the Copts from marching in protest against the Morsi regime proved unsuccessful. Millions of Copts took part in the protests, but in some cases the cost was high.
Soon after the statement by General Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to the effect that the army was intervening to oust Morsi, churches and Coptic property came under attack in various parts of the country, among them at the locations below.

LUXOR: Copts in Nagaa Hassan, near the Al-Dabiya village in western Luxor, came under repeated attack on 4 and 5 July after the body of Hassan Hanafi, a Muslim man, was found near a canal.
The family of the deceased accused a Christian named Sobhi Iskandar, 18, of killing Hanafi. On Friday 5 July, Iskandar was assaulted but managed to flee from his assailants and call Church leaders, who alerted the police.
A relative of Iskandar, Shenouda, was beaten and thrown into the Nile, but managed to swim to safety. A police car was sent to the village, and the police managed to calm the crowd by telling them that Iskandar was dead. He was then moved to hospital.
Eyewitnesses said that hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters knocked on the houses of Christians and tried to break into them. Church leaders called the police, who arrived belatedly and in inadequate numbers.
The attacks on the Christian homes lasted all day, with some houses being attacked more than once. Church leaders continued to urge the police to send reinforcements, but their demands were largely ignored. One priest said that the police “have no interest in helping us or in knowing what is happening”.

MINYA: Starting on 30 June, the village of Dilga in Minya was the site of sectarian attacks.
On Sunday 30 June and Monday 1 July, Muslim youngsters marched through the village, shouting sectarian slogans and banging on the doors and windows of Christians. The show of anger ended without clashes or injuries on either side. Police arrived on the scene and stationed six policemen in the local church for protection.
Around 10pm on the night of Wednesday 3 July, immediately after Al-Sisi delivered his statement, hundreds of Muslims attacked a community centre affiliated with the Mar Girgis Church. The attackers chanted “Islamic state, Islamic state, we want legitimacy. What a disgrace — the Nazarenes [Christians] have turned into revolutionaries.”
The attackers proceeded to beat up the guard of the church, a Muslim man, causing other guards to flee. The protesters then entered the church, looted it, and set it on fire.
Throughout this episode, most Copts remained in their houses, though groups of protesters roamed through the village, knocking on windows with metal bars and banging on the doors of Christians. According to eyewitnesses, the homes and shops of Copts Girgis Fahim, Kromar Ishak, Salama Ishak and Nadi Mehanna were looted.
When his house came under attack, Mehanna climbed onto the roof and began firing at the assailants, killing one of them. The assailants then dragged Mehanna’s wife out of the house and shot her, setting the house on fire. Mehanna’s wife is receiving treatment at the Bon Pasteur Hospital in Minya.
In the same village, Youssef Guindi and Michel Gamil were forced by Muslim assailants to break the crosses adorning the entrances to their houses. The contents of their homes were then smashed.
Another group of assailants attacked the Al-Islah Church, broke down its doors and looted it. Some of the assailants blocked the road into the village in an attempt to stop fire engines and police from coming to the scene.
Throughout these events, followers of the Islamist current were urging the village’s Muslim inhabitants to attack the Copts.
At one point, a Muslim pharmacist called on locals to “take revenge against the Christians” who, he said, had “brought down Morsi”.
Another man used the Nasr Mosque loudspeaker to urge the population to attack Christians, claiming that Christians had attacked Morsi supporters who were blocking local train tracks. At this point, various local notables intervened, saying that Christians had nothing to do with the recent political events.

NORTH SINAI: Two masked men shot father Mina Abboud Sharobim in the village of Al-Masaid near Arish.
Sharobim was about to get into his car to drive to the Mar Mina Church, when the attack took place. Father Youssef Sobhi, who works for the North Sinai bishopric, said that Sharobim had been hit by 12 bullets and had died at the scene.
The assailants got into Sharobim’s car and fled from the scene. Other gunmen later abducted Magdi Habib, a Christian merchant, in the Souq Al-Talat market in Sheikh Zuweid City.
Coptic clergymen say that most churches in North Sinai are now closed, and that Islamist extremists are still distributing leaflets inciting hatred against Christians.
Back in September 2012, Christian families were driven out of Rafah following sectarian attacks. Sinai governorate officials, acting under pressure from human rights groups, took action to bring the families back to their homes at the time.

MARSA MATROUH: On Wednesday 3 July, pro-Morsi supporters gathered around the Virgin Mary Church in Marsa Matrouh, firing guns into the air and then setting fire to the guard kiosk situated outside the church.
The assailants began hacking into the iron gate of the church, throwing rocks and Molotov cocktails into the building in an attempt to set it on fire.
When the attack began, Father Bigimi, the rector, called the police and the fire department, which arrived at the scene in about 20 minutes and dispersed the crowds.
In his statement to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, an NGO, Bigimi said that several well-known Salafis had spoken to worshippers in the Al-Fath Mosque the next day and told them to stop the attacks.

PORT SAID: Around midnight on Tuesday 9 July, masked men fired at the Mar Mina Church in the Al-Manakh neighbourhood of Port Said. Bullets hit the glass of the pharmacy of the Mar Mina Hospital, which is adjacent to the church.
Two employees, Michael Sanad and Peter Halim, were injured by flying glass.
According to officials, the number of worshippers in the church was small, due to orders by church leaders to avoid congregating except during prayer times.
Subsequent media reports claimed that the security guards of the church had exchanged fire with the masked men and that one of the assailants had been arrested.

OTHER ATTACKS: On Thursday 4 July, Morsi supporters tried to march towards the offices of the Qena bishopric, but were intercepted by police. Three shops owned by Copts were partially vandalised during the march.
Also on 4 July, pro-Morsi protesters threw rocks at the Mar Mina Church in Minya, but other protesters objected and the rock-throwing came to a stop.
On Sunday 7 July, marks appeared on Coptic-owned shops in Minya, apparently to single them out for future attack.
The Dostour Party in Minya said that the “Islamists have placed marks on Coptic-owned shops in Balas Square, the largest square in Minya, so that they can be singled out for attack. A Coptic Orthodox orphanage was also marked out in black.”
On 5 July, a leaflet bearing the signature of “the Supporters of Sharia in Egypt” was distributed in North Sinai accusing the “Nazarenes” — Christians — of “declaring war on Islam and Muslims and Egypt and trying to transform Egypt from a stronghold of Islam into a secular, Crusader land in which Islam has no place”.
The leaflet went on to say that Christians “are assaulting the life and property of Muslims and that people who look like Islamists, such as bearded men and monaqabat [veiled women], are coming under attack.” The leaflet also claimed that mosques were being attacked and that Christians were storing weapons in churches.
Prior to the 30 June protests, a leaflet entitled “Message to the Christians” was distributed in Minya.
The leaflet warned Christians of “dire consequences” unless they stayed at home during the protests. “If you go out on 30 June to set the country on fire, remember that one litre of gasoline is enough to set fire to jewellery shops [presumably those owned by Christians] and perhaps even homes and churches. Even if you do not fear for yourselves, fear for your children and your homes.”
A similar message was also distributed in Beni Sweif at the same time, telling Copts that they would be attacked and killed if they went out to demonstrate against Morsi.

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