A leading Egyptian bishop said that many Christians, especially in the worst affected area of Minya province, Upper Egypt, are now too afraid to leave their homes after last week's 48-hour anti-Christian rampage by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Speaking with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need (A.C.N.), Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut also called on Western governments to work with the country’s new regime in defeating extremists responsible for a wave of terrorism directed against nearly 80 churches and other Coptic centers.
On Aug. 18, after five days of "terrorist attacks, killings and the burning of churches, schools and state institutions," Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sedrak, president of the Council of Catholic Patriarchs and Bishops in Egypt, thanked "our honorable Muslim compatriots who have stood by our side, as far as they could, in defending our churches and our institutions."
Fifty-eight churches and Christian institutions were attacked and set on fire in Egypt in past days, according to Father Rafic Greiche, spokesman of the Catholic Bishops of Egypt. "Out of 58 churches attacked 14 are Catholic, the rest belong to the Coptic Orthodox, Greek Orthodox, Anglican and Protestant communities," he said. "The attacks against the churches took place all over the country, but are concentrated especially in the areas of Al Minya and Assiut, because it is there that we find the headquarters of the jihadists, responsible for this violence."
"It should be emphasized,” Greiche said, “that Muslims who live in the vicinity of the affected churches have helped men and women religious to put out the fires of the religious buildings.
“This is not a civil war between Christians and Muslims," he added. "It is not a civil war, but a war against terrorism. And the majority of the population is against terrorism and religious extremism."
The Associated Press reported today that nearly 1,000 people had been killed in violence between security forces and Morsi supporters. The number is disputed by supporters of the Brotherhood, who allege that as many as 3,000 have died. The violence began on Aug. 14, when security forces raided camps of Morsi supporters conducting protests in various cities around the country.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon today strongly condemned the latest violence, a slaughter in the Sinai of Egyptian police officers. At least 25 police officers were killed when two mini-buses were ambushed earlier today.The attack follows reports of 36 prisoners in police custody killed Sunday night as they were being transferred from one facility to another. Ban called for a full investigation of the incident.
Describing how, since Tuesday (August 13th), almost 80 churches, convents, church-run schools, clinics and other centers were hit, Bishop William criticized the West for failing to acknowledge the scale of unprovoked attacks on innocent communities by Mr. Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters. The bishop said, “The Western governments are speaking about human rights; yes, these groups have a right to demonstrate, but not with arms. The Western governments do not see the reality of what is going on here.
“A group of terrorists have used arms against us. [Western governments] should not be supporting this.”
Speaking from Assiut, Bishop William added, “The [Muslim Brothers] think that the Christians were the cause of Morsi being ousted. But the Christians were not alone: there were 35 million who went on the streets against Morsi.”
“Christians are being punished. We have been scapegoated.” He stressed that, in spite of repeated efforts, including those by Western governments, to encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in dialogue, the Islamist movement had responded with violence.
His comments come as Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak of Alexandria issued a statement Monday, August 19, in which he declared “our free, strong and conscious support for all state institutions, particularly the Armed Forces and the police, for all their efforts in protecting our homeland.”
Both he and Bishop William stressed how many Muslims had stood shoulder-to-shoulder with Christians in defending churches and other Coptic buildings from attack. Bishop William said: “Our people are close to normal Muslims, moderate Muslims. When the fundamentalists came for the Christians in [Assiut’s] Old Town, the Muslims sent them away using arms.”
“In other cities, Christians and Muslims came to protect churches and they stayed next to the churches all day.”
He said that many Muslims shared the Christians’ view that there should be a clear separation between religion and the state. Many bishops underlined how the attacks of last week came as a surprise. Bishop William said, “We had expected some response [from the Muslim Brotherhood], but not to this degree of brutality.”
In Luxor, Bishop Joannes Zakaria told A.C.N. how on Friday (August 16th), an Islamic protest turned ugly when the extremists tried to break into the bishop’s house and set fire to it, but armed forces intervened “and saved us, thanks be to God.”
He said that all the churches were now closed, adding, “I, the bishop, the priests, the Sisters and the people cannot move [about]. We keep staying in our homes to be saved from any kind of violence.”
The bishop said that both in Luxor, and the villages outside, “some” churches and Christians’ homes were set on fire and that some Christian-run shops were destroyed.
He added that in Dabbiah, a village close to Luxor, five Christians and one Muslim had been killed. All the bishops appealed for prayers.
In a message to A.C.N., Bishop Zakaria said, “We are happy to be suffering and to be victims and to lose our churches and our homes and our livelihood to save Egypt for the Christians and the Muslims.”
“We need the prayer of everybody to solve our problems. It is the future of our children that we are concerned about so that good Christians and Muslims can live alongside each other.”
The list of attacks published by the Coptic Catholic Church included a Franciscan-run church and school in Suez and three Catholic churches, a monastery and school damaged and burned in Assiut. Four Catholic churches, a convent and school in Minya, as well as a convent of Sisters of St. Mary in Cairo, were also according the website, which blamed "the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Mohammed Morsi, the former Egyptian president."
Meanwhile, 35 Coptic Orthodox and Protestant churches were attacked in various towns and cities, as well as an Anglican church in Suez.
Six Christian sites were burned by crowds in Fayoum and five others in Sohag, said the report, which added that all the incidents had been "verified by representatives of the Christian churches." Christian homes, shops and hotels were also looted in Minya, el-Arish, Assiut and Luxor, along with offices of the ecumenical Bible Society in Cairo, Assiut and Fayoum.