EGYPT – Bishop warns of exponential rise in attacks on Christians
Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, issued a warning about the exponential rise in attacks on Christians in Egypt:
“It is regrettable that the time has come yet again to speak of heightened, targeted attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Tensions against Egypt’s indigenous Christian community have again escalated over the past few months, and will spiral even further if not immediately addressed” he stated.
Recent events including a downturn in tourism, economic problems and loss of foreign trade have made Egypt “more vulnerable to a disturbing wave of radicalism.” Tensions between Christianity and Islam have ‘escalated over the past few months’. The main catalysts for mob violence were inflammatory false rumours of new churches being built and of affairs between Christians and Muslims. There is also a worrying trend of priests and their families being directly targeted.
“At their most brutal, these recent attacks have culminated in the burning of churches and places of worship, the stripping and public parading of 70-year-old Souad Thabet, and the senseless murder of Father Raphael Moussa,” Bishop Angaelos said.
He noted attacks “are almost weekly now. Egypt is in a very vulnerable position. People are frustrated and vulnerable to radicalisation.”
Among the recent attacks he highlighted were:
- A number of Christian homes looted and destroyed in May
- Public humiliation of a 70-year-old Christian woman in Menia who was paraded naked in May after her son was accused of having an affair with a Muslim woman.
- The Archangel Mikhail Coptic Church was torched in the village of Naj al-Nassara in Madamoud.
- Five private Christian homes torched in Abu Yacoub, Menia, after rumours spread that a church was being built.
- In June, a Christian home in Baidaa village was torched by a mob of 5000 men and women, after unsubstantiated rumours that it was going to become a church.
- Also in June, Coptic Priest Father Moussa shot and murdered in Al Arish, Sinai.
- A 27-year-old Coptic Christian man was stabbed to death, priests’ families attacked and others wounded in the village of Tahna al-Gabal in Menia.
- A 33-year-old Coptic pharmacist, Maged Attia, was stabbed and beheaded in Tanta this month.
Bishop Angaelos warned that the violence will ‘spiral even further if not immediately addressed’. He emphasised that the Egyptian law is not one for Christians, Muslims or any other individual group of people, but it is for all Egyptians “So when violated this violation is against all.” He noted that most Muslims in Egypt were also concerned about the situation and the persecution of their Christian neighbours.
The bishop acknowledged there were ‘clear efforts’ at the national level by Egyptian officials to curb Christian persecution but said the lack of reaction by forces at a local level were guilty of ‘at best, carelessness and, at worst, criminal negligence’.
The poor response from local police to attacks on Christians “gives a clear and direct message that certain crimes will go unchallenged and unchecked, especially when perpetrators are not brought to justice.”
He said the lack of effective local law enforcement was interpreted as a sign that attacks would go unpunished. “The resulting sense of impunity not only means a lack of justice for crimes already perpetrated, but also gives greater encouragement to those who will seek to do even more, and more aggressively.”
Bishop Angaelos remarked that Christians no longer felt safe in their own communities. “They feel vulnerable and targeted. And the worse it gets, the more polarised communities will become.”
He called for a “robust system of law and order that appropriately responds to crime, irrespective of who it is perpetrated by or against. If this does not happen, the concern is that hopes for a more cohesive nation will disappear, and that recent events will give way to a re-emerging religious divide.”
Bishop Angaelos observed that this was not the worst persecution Christians had faced in the last two millennia. He remained confident that there was still a good future for the Christianity in Egypt. He concluded: “The brutal and personal nature of many of the attacks against our brothers and sisters in Egypt warrants our prayers and support for them as they continue to endure heightened levels of persecution while refusing to lose their admirable and resilient spirit, and unyielding ability to forgive according to their Christian devotion and commitment.”
“We also pray for Egypt and its leadership, hoping that hearts and minds will be led to greater inclusiveness, justice, equality, and refuge for the oppressed, remembering that our Lord Himself once took refuge from persecution within its gracious and welcoming borders.”
Egypt is home to 13 million Christians – three-quarters of all Christians in the Middle East – who make up 15 per cent of the population in Egypt.