Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1209, (14 - 20 August 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Acts of remembrance

Michael Adel writes on the Coptic Church’s commemoration of the sectarian attacks that followed the ouster of Mohamed Morsi and dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Cairo  

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Al-Ahram Weekly

The forced dispersal of protest camps in Rabaa and Nahda Squares on 14 August 2013 was followed by a wave of attacks targeting churches and Christian-owned property.

Hard-line Islamists with links to the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiyya were reported to be behind the arson and looting, said to be in retaliation for the dispersal of the sit-ins in which hundreds of Islamists lost their lives. In many cases churches were attacked in the middle of the day and calls to the police went unanswered.

Special services were scheduled in churches Thursday to commemorate the outbreak of sectarian violence and to pay homage to the Christian community, whose self-restraint, say Coptic leaders, helped avert the wider conflict that extremists hoped to ignite.

Pope Tawadros II told Al-Ahram Weekly that the Coptic Church had shown the world that it is a patriotic institution that believes in protecting the country and maintaining national unity. Muslim Brotherhood misrule, he added, had united Egyptians, creating bonds between the public and the army, and between the church and the mosque.

Anba Makarius, Bishop of Minya and Abu Qorqas, has produced a book, Rahiq al-Istishhad (Taste of Martyrdom), detailing the attacks on churches. Pope Tawadros wrote the introduction. The volume, says Tawadros, offers “historical testimony about bloody incidents that are still alive in the memory of the country, church, and society.” Egyptian Copts, he said, have taught the world “the meaning of patriotism, fraternity and citizenry. Observing true Christian teaching, they prayed for the souls of their assailants.”

The book lists the damage caused at 60 churches, and the wholesale looting of others. Islamist extremists, writes Anba Makarius, targeted not only churches and their annexes but shops and houses owned by Christians.

“No Copt in Egypt felt safe that day,” he recalled, adding, “yet even as the remains of churches were smouldering, congregations returned to their houses of worship to pray. They asked the Lord to grant their assailants forgiveness.”

Later investigations showed the attacks were well planned. They were coordinated with assaults on police stations, leaving security forces unable to respond to calls for help from Christians.

Churches were first looted before being set on fire. The arsonists would then either distribute the spoils in the streets or drive away the looted goods in cars and sell them later. One Coptic clergyman describes in Rahiq al-Istishhad how churches were vandalised and torched in full view of their congregations who stood at a distance, unable to stop the attacks.

Investigations into the wave of assaults found that in many towns the homes and businesses of Christians were marked with an “X” to single them out for attack.

The army later helped repair many damaged churches, and its efforts have been praised by church leaders.

The vandalism that followed the dispersal of the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins was a nationwide phenomenon. In Sohag, the Church of the Virgin, Anba Ibram Church and Mar Girgis Church were all destroyed. The offices of the bishop and three priests were set on fire and cars belonging to Christians were damaged. In Asyut, Mar Girgis Church was burned down while the Church of the Archangel Michael was partially burned and the Franciscan Church of St Theresa was looted. Three protestant churches were also attacked.

In Abnub, Mar Yohanna Church was completely destroyed. Three Copts were killed when arsonists set fire to Mar Yuhanna Church in Qusiya. More than half of the churches in Minya governorate were vandalised or destroyed and Coptic-owned property, including homes, cars, and businesses, were vandalised.

In Deir Mawas, the Monastery of the Virgin Mary, which included three ancient churches, was destroyed. In Abu Qorqas, the churches of Amir Tadros and Anba Musa were burned to the ground while Mar Mina Church suffered partial damage. In Bani Mazar, the Virgin and Mar Mina Church was partially destroyed.

The Mar Girgis Church was fully destroyed in Maghagha and a church social building in nearby Belhasa was burned.

Five churches in Fayyum were set on fire, including the Church of the Virgin Mary in al-Nazla. The Amir Tadros Chruch in Sanga was vandalised. St Demianna Church in al-Zarabi and the Bible Society in the same town were looted.

In Giza, the Karmat Al-Rusul Monastery in Atfih was looted while a partial arson was reported at the Virgin Anba Shenouda churches in Al-Kom Al-Ahmar.

The Church of the Archangel Michael in Kerdasa and two attached chapels were razed. The Church of the Virgin, the Mar Demianna Church and the Manahri Church were attacked and a nearby social centre looted. In North Sinai, the Mar Girgis church was partially looted.

Eyewitnesses have provided testimony of the assaults. John Samir, 21, of Minya, says that he saw thousands of men arrive in buses at 10 o’clock on the morning of 14 August. They began marching through the town, chanting slogans that included “Tawadros, you’re a coward and agent of the Americans” and “Tawadros, you’re a coward, remove your dogs from of the square.”

By early afternoon the mob had broken into Amir Tadros Church, where they stole a safe before setting light to the building. The men surrounding the church, says Samir, were carrying Molotov cocktails, and some were armed with assault rifles.

He watched the men as they attacked and burned down shops and three other churches, the Coptic school complex for boys and the St. Joseph School for Girls. The Soldiers of Christ Orphanage was also attacked, as was the Jesuit complex. Despite frantic calls from residents, no security forces arrived. Nor did the fire service respond to calls for assistance.

Filmon Samir, 24, tried to enter the Amir Tadros Church at 3 pm to help extinguish the fire. Samir said he was chased away from the scene by four bearded men who threw rocks at anyone who tried to put out the fire.

A fact-finding committee that examined the attacks reported that the assaults on Christian property in Upper Egypt were systematic, while in the north they appeared more random. Protests organised on the morning of 14 August took routes that passed through Christian areas. As the demonstrators approached churches and other Christian-owned buildings small groups would break into them, loot the contents, then set the buildings on fire.

Many eyewitnesses claim Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiyya and the Muslim Brotherhood were behind the attacks on 14 August. As a report by the Maspero Youth for Development and Human Rights (MYDHR) stresses, however, assaults on Christians and their property had long been a problem. A steady stream of attacks took place throughout 2013, escalating after 30 June.

According to the MYDHR report, 102 Christians were killed in 2013 in sectarian attacks. Three were killed in January, eight in February, four in March, eight in April, six in May, one in June, nine in July, 15 in August, nine in September, seven in October, 30 in November, and one in December. The report also lists 182 kidnappings of Copts in 2013, the majority of them after 30 June. Eleven Christians were abducted in January 2013, 20 in February, 14 in March, 14 in April, 13 in May (three of whom were later killed), 16 in June, 12 in July, 22 in August (two of whom were killed), 13 in September, 22 in October, 19 in November, and 12 in December.

The atmosphere of intimidation was heightened by verbal and written threats. On 5 July of last year a leaflet signed by Ansar Al-Sharia was distributed in North Sinai. The leaflet accused local Christians of “declaring war on Islam and its people in Egypt and turning Egypt from a stronghold of Islam into a secular Crusader eyesore in which Islam cannot fly a flag.” It claimed that Christians “target the lives and property of Muslims” and that “churches have become fortresses and repositories of weapons.”

“Message to Christians,” a leaflet distributed in Minya, warned the Coptic community not to participate in demonstrations against then-president Mohamed Morsi. “If anyone goes out (to demonstrate) on 30 June we will set the country ablaze,” the leaflet threatened. “Don’t forget that one litre of gasoline is enough to burn down your gold shops, houses and churches. Have concern for your families and your homes.”

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