Egyptian patriarch calls recent violence a 'war' on terrorism

An Egyptian man stands amongst debris in the Nasr City district on August 14 2013 in Cairo Egypt Credit Ed Giles Getty Images News Getty Images CNA 8 19 13 An Egyptian man stands amongst debris in the Nasr City district on August 14, 2013 in Cairo, Egypt. | Ed Giles, Getty Images News/Getty Images.

The head of the Coptic Catholic Church has expressed solidarity with other Egyptians over the wave of violence that has struck the country, bluntly calling the events a struggle against terrorist forces. 

Patriarch Ibrahim Isaac Sidrak of Alexandria said that "out of love for our country and in solidarity with all lovers of Egypt, both Christians and Muslims," the patriarchate will not label the crisis "a political struggle between different factions."

Rather, the conflict is "a war against terrorism," he insisted in an Aug. 18 statement.

On Aug. 14, Egyptian security forces violently broke up the camps of protesters allied with the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist movement. The protesters were demanding the restoration to power of Mohammed Morsi, who had been elected president of Egypt following the country's Arab Spring, yet was ousted by the military July 3.

Since the Wednesday crackdown, violence has spread across the country, with at least 900 dead in the past six days. Nine Christians are reported to have been killed by Islamists, one in Alexandria, seven in Al Nazla, and one in Sohag, about 280 miles south of Cairo.

In the ensuing violence, many churches have been vandalized, burned, and looted because of perceived Christian support for the coup that ousted Morsi. Christian homes and businesses have also been destroyed.

Patriarch Sidrak expressed appreciation for the government institutions which have tried to protect Egyptians from this week's violence, and for "our honorable Muslim compatriots who have stood by our side, as far as they could, in defending our churches and our institutions."

An Egyptian Catholic who requested anonymity and is from Sohag told CNA in an Aug. 19 telephone interview that moderate Muslims helped defend Christians against attacks in the city, by rushing to help put out the fires in the churches.

He said that "national media is saying it's only 42" churches that have been attacked since Wednesday, but "everyone knows it's 82."

"Twenty-six cities in Egypt have at least three or four big churches and they have been affected," he remarked.

Western media reports vary between citing 47 and 63 churches having been attacked since Aug. 14.

In Sohag, the source said, the vandals "burned the biggest Orthodox Church and they burned the cars and shops that belonged to the Christians, too."

The man's lament that the violence is being under-reported in the media was echoed by Patriarch Sidrak, who condemned "those media that promote lies and falsify the truth in order to mislead world
public opinion."

Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, also denounced "the fallacies" broadcast by Western media.

The man from Sohag said that "to save Christianity" in Egypt, "we must get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists." Both groups support the imposition of sharia law.

While violence against Egypt's Christian minority, which represents 10 percent of the nation, is nothing new, it had been sporadic before the Aug. 14 crackdown on Morsi supporters. Despite this, the Muslim Brotherhood stated last week it "stands firmly against any attack – even verbal – against churches."

A high-ranking source in the Coptic Catholic Church, who requested anonymity due to the delicate situation, told CNA Aug. 19 that the violence is due to "the categorical rejection by the Muslim Brotherhood of every kind of dialogue with the Egyptian people."

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The belief that Islamists, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, are responsible for the violence against Christians, seems to be a common one among Copts, the country's ethnic Christian community.

Pope Tawadros II added in his statement that the Coptic Orthodox "have full faith and confidence in the Divine intervention that will navigate the Egyptian people in this delicate time of our history to a better tomorrow and a brighter future filled with  justice, peace, and democracy."

In Beni Suef, a city 80 miles south of Cairo, three nuns were paraded through city streets after their Franciscan school was looted and torched. They were rescued by a Muslim woman who had taught at the school and whose son-in-law is a policeman there. Two other teachers at the school "had to fight their way out of the mob, while groped, hit and insulted by the extremists," the AP reported Aug. 17.

In two Egyptian towns, Al Nazla and Minya – over 100 miles apart from each other – it is reported that Islamists marked Christian homes and businesses with graffiti to mark them for attack.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, in Al Nazla Christian buildings were marked with red graffiti.

The AP reports that in Minya, black Xs were painted on Christian stores, and red Xs on Muslim-owned stores. "You can be sure that the ones with a red X are intact," Bishoy Alfons Naguib, a business owner from Minya, told the AP.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious freedom said Aug. 16 that "the government's excessive use of force when breaking up protests, the high number of deaths, the return to a state of emergency, and the targeting of Christians by extremists are all profoundly troubling."

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The commission's chair, Robert George, added that "assaulting religious minorities is not a legitimate form of protest against government action … USCIRF calls on the Egyptian government to immediately ensure the protection of places of worship and urges justice and accountability for perpetrators, both inside and outside of government."

In their statements, both Patriarch Sidrak and Pope Tawadros II stated opposition to foreign influence in Egypt's internal affairs.

In the midst of the violence, it is expected that former president Hosni Mubarak could be freed from jail this week. Mubarak was the nation's leader before the 2011 revolution that lead to the election of Morsi.

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