Chris­tians tar­geted by Is­lamists

Churches, homes at­tacked in Egypt

SundayXtra - - NEWS WORLD - By Hamza Hen­dawi

CAIRO, Egypt — Af­ter torch­ing a Fran­cis­can school, Is­lamists pa­raded three nuns on the streets like “pris­on­ers of war” be­fore a Mus­lim woman of­fered them refuge. Two other women work­ing at the school were sex­u­ally ha­rassed and abused as they fought their way through a mob.

In the four days since se­cu­rity forces cleared two sit- in camps by sup­port­ers of Egypt’s ousted pres­i­dent, Is­lamists have at­tacked dozens of Cop­tic churches along with homes and busi­nesses owned by the Chris­tian mi­nor­ity. The cam­paign of in­tim­i­da­tion ap­pears to be a warn­ing to Chris­tians out­side Cairo to stand down from po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism.

Chris­tians have long suf­fered from dis­crim­i­na­tion and vi­o­lence in Mus­lim- ma­jor­ity Egypt, where they make up 10 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion of 90 mil­lion. At­tacks in­creased af­ter the Is­lamists rose to power in the wake of the 2011 Arab Spring up­ris­ing that drove Hosni Mubarak from power, em­bold­en­ing ex­trem­ists. But Chris­tians have come fur­ther un­der fire since Pres­i­dent Mo­hammed Morsi was ousted on July 3, spark­ing a wave of Is­lamist anger led by Morsi’s Mus­lim Brother­hood.

Nearly 40 churches have been looted and torched, while 23 oth­ers have been at­tacked and heav­ily dam­aged since Wed­nes­day, when chaos erupted af­ter Egypt’s mil­i­tary- backed in­terim ad­min­is­tra­tion moved in to clear two camps packed with pro­test­ers call­ing for Morsi’s re­in­state­ment, killing scores of pro­test­ers and spark­ing deadly clashes na­tion­wide.

One of the world’s old­est Chris­tian com­mu­ni­ties has gen­er­ally kept a low- pro­file, but has be­come more po­lit­i­cally ac­tive since Mubarak was ousted and Chris­tians sought to en­sure fair treat­ment in the af­ter­math.

Many Morsi sup­port­ers say Chris­tians played a dis­pro­por­tion­ately large role in the days of mass ral­lies, with mil­lions de­mand­ing he step down ahead of the coup.

De­spite the vi­o­lence, Egypt’s Cop­tic Chris­tian church re­newed its com­mit­ment to the new po­lit­i­cal or­der Fri­day, say­ing in a state­ment it stood by the army and the po­lice in their fight against “the armed vi­o­lent groups and black ter­ror­ism.”

While the Chris­tians of Egypt have en­dured at­tacks by ex­trem­ists, they have drawn closer to mod­er­ate Mus­lims in some places, in a rare show of sol­i­dar­ity.

Hun­dreds from both com­mu­ni­ties thronged two monas­ter­ies in the prov­ince of Bani Suef south of Cairo to thwart what they had ex­pected to be im­mi­nent at­tacks on Satur­day, lo­cal ac­tivist Gir­gis Wa­heeb said. Ac­tivists re­ported sim­i­lar ex­am­ples else­where in re­gions south of Cairo, but not enough to pro­vide ef­fec­tive pro­tec­tion of churches and monas­ter­ies.

Wa­heeb, other ac­tivists and vic­tims of the lat­est wave of at­tacks blame the po­lice as much as hard- line Is­lamists for what hap­pened. The at­tacks, they said, co­in­cided with as­saults on po­lice sta­tions in prov­inces like Bani Suef and Minya, leav­ing most po­lice pinned down to de­fend their sta­tions or re­in­forc­ing oth­ers rather than rush­ing to the res­cue of Chris­tians un­der at­tack.

— The As­so­ci­ated Press

ROGER ANIS / THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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