‘Nightmare scenario’: Egyptian Christians under assault

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Brendan Bordelon Contributor
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Dozens of Christian churches in Egypt have been attacked by violent mobs since the military’s crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood protesters in Cairo last week, a human rights investigator reported.

Adam Coogle, a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Egypt for the last six days, told The Daily Caller News Foundation that his organization can confirm at least 33 separate attacks on Christian churches, schools and other facilities. Four people have been confirmed dead.

He said the Coptic Church claimed nearly twice that amount of attacks, with 65 churches and monasteries allegedly invaded, looted, burned or destroyed.

Open Doors USA, an organization serving persecuted Christians worldwide, told TheDCNF that 95 churches, monasteries, orphanages and schools were damaged or destroyed nationwide. A further 212 Coptic Christian properties were attacked, with seven Christians killed.

“We tried to independently confirm as many of these as we could, tracking down witnesses, preferably residents, who could tell us what they saw or what happened generally,” Coogle said via phone from Cairo on Tuesday.

He had just returned from two days in Minya, a city in central Egypt along the banks of the Nile River with a disproportionately high Christian population. Most estimates claim that Christians make up around 10 percent of Egypt’s 82 million people.

The researcher recalled a number of assaults, mostly by mobs of Muslim Brotherhood supporters, that took place in Minya over the last few days.

“There’s a Jesuit center in Minya, with several Jesuit priests and brothers,” he told TheDCNF. “I spoke to one Jesuit priest today who said that when the attacks started, they initially attacked from one side and threw Molotov cocktails.”

“They couldn’t get through the iron bars, but they did burn down the administration building and a building where they offered services for handicapped people, people with physical and intellectual disabilities, sort of capacity-building and training,” he continued. “They looted that and burned it to the ground.”

Coogle said that despite the fence, many Molotov cocktails made it into the church, “but they weren’t exploding immediately and the priests there were able to put them out before they exploded.”

He says that when the attackers briefly retreated, priests ran to the local police station to plead for help.

“The police said, ‘No, we can’t. Our orders are to defend the police station,’” he related.

One of the officers briefly drove by the church facilities, but did not stop his vehicle. The attack continued.

“I would not be able to go far enough to say this is some sort of willful negligence,” Coogle said, “but it does seem as though they were totally unprepared for something that was entirely predictable.”

“In most of the areas where the attacks occurred,” he explained, “the police stations came under attack simultaneously [with the churches] . . . Essentially police officers got pulled off of defending and patrolling property in order to protect the police stations.”

He said he had spoken to the head of the security directorate in Minya, who told him that many of their police stations were “under siege.”

“I think he said 12 police stations were attacked, and six were completely burned to the ground,” Coogle recalled.

The Human Rights Watch researcher tried to explain the explosion in violence against Egyptian Christian communities since the military’s move against Muslim Brotherhood protesters last week.

“It wasn’t just August 14 came, and these churches were attacked,” he said. “There have been escalating attacks against Copts for the last month.”

“These attacks had escalated in the evening following the removal of Morsi [on July 3], and when August 14 happened it sort of turned it into a nightmare scenario, where you have these sit-ins of protesters across the country who then start moving around and venting their anger,” he continued.

“As these sit-ins have gone on, there have been various speeches – I think the best way to describe it is an escalating rhetoric around Coptic complicity [in the July coup],” he said. “It’s a scapegoating really.”

Coogle hopes the new government may be able to bring some measure of justice to the Christian victims of sectarian attacks in Egypt.

“Historically in Egypt, there’s been a serious denial of justice to Copts that have been attacked,” he said.

“If you look at the history of the issue there’s not much room for optimism, although the political calculus may have changed now,” Coogle continued. “The government is really playing up the church attacks as sort of an example of Islamic terrorism, talking a lot about the church attacks as an example of Muslim Brotherhood bad behavior.”

“It may be more politically feasible for them to actually seriously investigate these things and prosecute people that participated in them, but I don’t know,” he finished.

In the meantime, most Egyptian Christians seem to be staying out of the political crisis wracking their country as much as possible.

“It’s difficult to speak on behalf of all Christians in Egypt,” said Emily Fuentes, a spokesperson for Open Doors USA, “but many who we have heard from are striving to lay low, be peaceful and cling to their identity in Christ, rather than politics.”

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