May 20, 2011
SOURCES: (Montreal Gazette, LA Times, Christian Today, World Evangelical Association, Compass Direct, AFLP (Agence France-Presse), Radio Free Europe, Christian Post)
VIDEO REPORTS: Initial Attacks / Protests / More on Coptic Christians in Egypt
Last February freedom-loving people around the world rejoiced, with little hesitation, at the fall of the Mubarak government, and much hope that a new and democratic society would rise out of the rubble. The international community cheered for 17 days as we witnessed Egyptian civilians standing for their freedom and staking a claim to their country’s future. Faith communities were especially moved by images of Christians and Muslims standing together in protest and solidarity, something hoped to be a sign of things to come. However, even then - submerged rumblings of doubt were present, as many Christians in Egypt and abroad feared that in the absence of the Mubarak regime, Muslim extremists might rise up and take advantage of the country’s instability. Recent brutal attacks on Coptic Christians in Egypt have lent credence to those fears.
On May 7th, in an impoverished district of Cairo, members of a Muslim movement called “Salafis” (a radical Islamic group who are demanding Egypt become an Islamic state, free of Christians) attacked and destroyed 2 churches, and a number of Christian businesses and homes. In the end, 12 people were killed and more than 200 wounded.
The reason for the attack? A rumour that a Coptic woman who had allegedly converted from Islam to Christianity was being held against her will in the church. Shortly after the rumour began circulating, crowds of Muslim extremists chanting Islamic slogans and shouting Osama bin Laden’s name took to the streets. Armed with military assault weapons, Molotov cocktails and knives, they began to attack members of the church who had gathered together in the building in fear, seeking safety. According to witnesses, army and security forces did not arrive on the scene until two hours after the attacks had almost fizzled out. This attack, one of many, is the most serious since the resignation of Hosni Mubarak in February, intensifying Egyptian Christian’s fears of increased attacks and targeting.
A few days later, Coptic Christians angry with the way the interim military rulers had handled the violence and attacks, protested outside Egypt’s state television building in Cairo. Protesters said they fear that some in Egypt want to replace Mubarak’s autocratic rule with an Islamic state that would further marginalize Christians. Shortly after the demonstration began, an opposing mob fired shots, burned cars and hurled gasoline bombs and rocks at the protesters. According to the Los Angeles Times, riot police did not respond immediately to the violence, but simply stood by. It was almost an hour after the attacks began that soldiers were brought in to contain the violence. Eventually, authorities arrested 23 people, including 2 individuals accused of sparking the riots.
In a public statement released on May 16th, a group of international experts and advocates are “warning of a dangerous escalation of attacks on Christians in Egypt”. Included in this group are Ziya Meral and Joseph Crapa Fellow with the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Baroness Caroline Cox, CEO, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust. The statement continues,
Unless the international community shows strong resolve and tenacity in keeping the emerging Egyptian leadership accountable, millions of Egyptian citizens will continue to face escalating violence and serious human rights abuses. We urge the Egyptian authorities to uphold rule of law and show resolve in addressing the worrying trends, which have the potential to pull Egypt into further chaos.
Read the full statement here.
Canada has also condemned the violence, in a statement made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper:
We stand behind the Coptic Christian community and their right to practice their faith in safety and security, free of persecution. This is a universal human right and one which our government is committed to defending.”
Ironically, it was at The Canadian Coptic Centre in Mississauga last month that the Prime Minister promised to establish a “Special Office of Religious Freedom” should his government regain power following the election. Coptic Christians make up about 10 percent of the Egyptian population of more than 80 million, which is predominantly Sunni Muslim. Canadian Coptic organizations estimate that there are at least 50,000 Copts living in Canada.
· Pray for the safety of Christians in Egypt, for the protection all churches, business and homes.
· Pray that Egyptian Christians would have courage to continue to make a stand for Jesus Christ in the face of persecution and even death.
· Pray for wisdom for all leaders in Egypt – both the current government, and for the future leadership of the country. Pray that religious freedom for all minorities in Egypt be a marker of the new government.
EGYPT REPORT AND UPDATE: Following the report on religious freedom in Egypt released in June of 2009 entitled Religious Freedom in Egypt: The Case of the Christian Minority an update is now available and can be found here.
Learn about Egypt from:
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
U.S. CIA: World Fact Book
Learn about religious freedom and human rights in Egypt from:
The Evangelical Fellowship of Canada
Voice of the Martyrs