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ICC Note: During the month of August there were at least 100 churches and Christian institutions attacked, some burned to the ground. This does not count the dozens of other private homes, shops, businesses, and vehicles of Christians that were also attacked. The amount of violence against the Christian community in Egypt was staggering. The exact reasons for the violence, the specific perpetrators, and the absence of security forces to prevent or punish the offenders, all remain somewhat unclear. The leaders of Egypt must continue to work to create a society that does not promote hatred and violence against others but promotes the dignity of every individual.
By Nelly van Doorn-Harder
8/31/2013 Egypt (Huffington Post) – These past weeks we witnessed how Egypt’s Christians paid the price for the fight between the military and members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups who continued to demand that their ousted president Morsi be reinstated. Churches, schools, and official dwellings of all Christian denominations — Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestant — have been destroyed; at least 52 Christian schools, convents, monasteries, institutions, and churches have been demolished. According to the offices of Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, 100 churches and Christian institutions in all were attacked and some twice. These counts leave out the shops, businesses, vehicles and private homes belonging to Christians.
Regardless of supportive networks outside Egypt, the Coptic Orthodox communities abroad, the Vatican, or the Protestant sister synods in the West, there is no limit to what can be done to religious minorities in Egypt. They are like an invisible abused spouse. Invisible because the majority of Muslim children in Egypt grow up without ever meeting a non-Muslim. And abused after years of Islamist rhetoric spread via radio, TV, the Internet and sermons in the mosque, which painted a picture of Christians as the enemy inside; worthy to be despised and pushed from the national stage. Especially after Morsi was removed from office the level of sectarian vitriol reached new heights. Why else would angry crowds attack and destroy schools, even hospitals that mainly catered to Muslim students and patients? Or why else would they parade nuns through the streets as if they were prisoners of war?
Especially from afar, it is difficult to distinguish who exactly is to blame. Based on what I hear from Egyptian colleagues such as Karim Malak, the ability to defend a church also depended on local circumstances. In some places, local Muslim leaders successfully fought off the attackers while in certain towns groups of Copts managed to protect their church. There were also several instances where Muslims and Copts stood up against the attackers together. And in some of the smaller villages, the police (whose role in containing sectarian violence has long been unclear) could do nothing if they had wanted to, since local leaders and Islamists controlled the situation.
The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood continue to deny that they were behind the violence. Whether its members committed the actual attacks or not, the Brotherhood remains guilty by extension. They are the ones who opened Pandora’s Box during the 1970s after President Sadat used Islamists as a means to legitimize his own power. Attacks on Coptic property and holy sites increased. A simple rumor was enough to make a neighborhood burn. Rumors ranged from a squabble between a Coptic merchant and a Muslim patron, to an illicit romantic relationship between a Copt and a Muslim. Typically, the police appeared not before the end of the rioting, often arresting Copts whose house, shop or church had just been destroyed.
In all the turmoil it is easy to forget that this is not the first time Egypt’s Christians have faced violence and destruction. In the midst of the attacks, Karim Malak commented that this type of destruction had happened since the Middle Ages and that the world would soon forget. Indeed, destruction at this scale has not happened since the year 1321 CE when sixty churches were destroyed in major anti-Christian rioting. The difference with today is that instant media show real-life attacks, with the violators and those who are being violated screaming for different reasons. The world might forget but can no longer deny and the facts of the story can no longer be twisted into a tale in which nothing ever happened.

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