Egypt – Stop the terrorists

Bishop hits out at West amid reports of nearly 80 church buildings attacked

By John Pontifex – ACN United-Kingdom
Adaptation – Marie-Claude Lalonde – ACN Canada

Damages following the fire, church of St. Teresa, Assiut
Damages following the fire, church of St. Teresa, Assiut

GOVERNMENTS in the West have come under fire from a leading Egyptian bishop who has called on them 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 centres.

Coptic Catholic Bishop Kyrillos William of Assiut said that many Christians, especially in the worst affected area of Minya province, Upper Egypt, were now too afraid to leave their homes after last week’s 48-hour anti-Christian rampage by supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi.

It comes as reports from Coptic Catholic Bishop Joannes Zakaria described how he was “saved” by police who stopped Islamists from setting fire to his home in Luxor during a spate of violence that has grounded the region’s Christian community – including the bishop, priests, Sisters and laity – and prevented them from leaving their homes.

Fire at the Association of Jesuit brothers in Minia
Fire at the Association of Jesuit brothers in Minia

Describing how, since Tuesday (13th August), almost 80 churches, convents, Church-run schools, clinics and other centres were hit, Bishop William criticised the West for failing to acknowledge the scale of unprovoked attacks on innocent communities by Mr Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood supporters.

In an interview with Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Bishop William 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 scape-goated.”

He stressed that, in spite of repeated efforts – including those by European Union governments – to encourage the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in dialogue, the Islamist movement had responded with violence.

Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak
Catholic Coptic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak

His comments come as Coptic Catholic Patriarch Ibrahim Sidrak of Alexandria issued a statement today (Monday, 19

August) 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 Brothers] but not to this degree of brutality”.

In Luxor, Bishop Joannes Zakaria told ACN how on Friday (16th August), 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.

Fire at the Franciscan's school in Beni Suef
Fire at the Franciscan’s school in Beni Suef

All the bishops appealed for prayers.

In a message to the National Director of ACN in the United Kingdom, 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.”

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