Copts in Egypt are begging for Egyptian Armed Forces protection today after a Muslim mob of several thousand attacked their church in the village of Soul, about 30 kilometers from Cairo, last night. The Church of St. Mina and St. George was torched, and its clergy are unaccounted for. The fire department and security forces failed to respond to Coptic pleas for help during the arson attack.
According to a report from the Washington-based Coptic American Friendship Association, the mob, chanting “Allahu Akbar,” pulled down the church’s cross and detonated a handful of gas cylinders inside the structure. The ensuing fire destroyed the church and all its contents, including the sacred relics of centuries-old saints. It is reported that a romantic relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman, which sharia forbids, and the refusal of the woman’s father to kill her to restore the community’s “honor,” aroused the Muslim ire. An account of this incident is here. (I also received a message from a Coptic friend that this week members of the Muslim Brotherhood, shouting “Allahu Akbar,” stormed a Christian school on Thabit Street in downtown Asyut and attempted to take it over. Egyptian security forces, including an army unit, intervened and routed out the Brotherhood members. The school had been built by Presbyterian missionaries in the early 1900s, and is now directed by Presbyterian Pastor Naji. Christian leaders from this southern area expressed a deepening sense of insecurity as the Muslim Brotherhood emerges from the underground.)
This incident follows separate brutal attacks by armed forces using heavy machine-gun fire against two monasteries, ostensibly for zoning problems, on February 23. Compass Direct, an American-based Christian news agency, reported that one monk and six church workers were shot and wounded when the Egyptian Army attacked the Coptic Orthodox Anba Bishoy Monastery in Wadi Al-Natroun, 110 kilometers north of Cairo, in order to destroy a wall monks had built to defend their property from raiders. On the same day, it reported that, in a similar incident, the army also attacked the Anba Makarious Al Sakandarie Monastery in Al Fayoum, 130 kilometers southwest of Cairo. Under an Egyptian law carried over from Ottoman times, state permission is required to build or repair church property and such permits are rarely issued.
There are growing concerns that Egypt’s 10 million or so Coptic Christians are being targeted under the cloak of political chaos during these uncertain times. A friend reports that the local Egyptian police have abandoned their posts in the provinces and thus many churches no longer have armed guards protecting them as they did following the al-Qaeda-inspired church bombing of New Year’s Day in Alexandria. Egypt’s army is one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid.
— Nina Shea is director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.