Egypt

As Egypt Descends In Chaos, Islamists Turn On Coptic Christians

Since the army's assault on Muslim Brotherhood began, Egypt's non-Muslim minority, the Copts, have been killed and their churches and buildings burned by radicals in the Brotherhood.

Faithful pray in burned Egyptian Coptic Church
Faithful pray in burned Egyptian Coptic Church
Christophe Ayad

-Analysis-

CAIRO — Soon after government security forces began their assault this week on protester camps set up in solidarity with deposed President Mohamed Morsi, much of the country was already ablaze violence. Among the chief targets, from Alexandria to Aswan, have been the sites of worship and other buildings belonging to Copts, or Egyptian Christians.

According to the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, 25 churches were attacked Aug. 14 and 15, as well as cultural and community centers, schools, houses and shops. The attacks, mostly committed with Molotov cocktails, have affected 10 of the 27 Egyptian provinces. Several dozens of civilians not associated at all with the protests in Cairo have allegedly been killed, although it is currently impossible to verify the numbers.

The scale and timing of these events suggest that they were more or less coordinated, and maybe even orchestrated, which is deeply troubling. At the same time, if no order had been given, then it may be even more worrying. That would mean that the anti-Coptic propaganda spread by the Islamist nebula’s most extremist preachers has sunk deep into its militants' minds.

Worse in the small villages

The heads of the Muslim Brotherhood have suggested over the last several weeks that the Church and Coptic businessmen financed the massive June 30 demonstration that led to President Morsi’s ouster. It's a strategy designed to rally Muslims — 90% of the Egyptian population — to their cause.

Anti-Coptic acts of violence were on the rise even before Wednesday’s attack. “That day, the ones who came to take over Tahrir square were Copts from all over Egypt,” a Muslim Brotherhood journalist told us in early August. As evidence, he put forward the presence of Coptic Christian Pope Tawadros II next to Egypt Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when Morsi’s resignation was announced. When we pointed out that the Sheikh of Al-Azhar, the president of the most prestigious Sunni university in the Arab world, was also there, he dismissed it. “He doesn’t represent the true Muslims,” he said.

If the Copts’ situation in Cairo is alarming, it is truly desperate in certain remote villages of Upper Egypt, where the inhabitants hide in their homes in fear of attacks.

On Thursday, the government claimed that these community attacks constituted a “red line,” while its strong man, al-Sisi, promised to rebuild the destroyed worship sites. On Thursday, 84 people, several members of the Muslim Brotherhood among them, were taken to a military court for anti-Christian acts of violence in Suez.

The pro-Morsi coalition denies any anti-Coptic acts of violence and accuses the intelligence services of committing them as a means to “tarnish the reputation” of the Muslim Brotherhood. It’s an unconvincing accusation.

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