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Islamic Hardliners Target Coptic Christians with Four Attacks in One Week

08/27/18 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that, as the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha concluded, a series of four attacks struck Upper Egypt from August 22 to 25, 2018. In each of these incidents, security forces either delayed providing protection to Christians or attempted to instigate violence.

On August 22, in the village of Esna in Luxor Governorate, Muslim extremists gathered to protest Christian worship in a church that was seeking legalization. The Christians were gathered to celebrate the Assumption of Mary and their church is one of an estimated 3,730 churches that are seeking official recognition.

Following Friday prayers on August 24, the mob gathered a second time. While the police prevented this second gathering from escalating, local sources report that they have arrested five Christians and 12 Muslims. It is unclear on what charges the Christians remain detained. A villager told Wataninet, “We were surprised by the arrest of five Copts by the police, despite the fact that the Copts did not participate or were involved with any group.”

On August 24, a mob gathered in the village of Sultan in Minya Governorate to protest a local church from seeking official legalization. ICC has reported on three other recent mob attacks against the church which occurred on July 6, July 7, and July 13. Similar to the previous incidents, an absence of law enforcement contributed to this latest attack. Isaac, who attends the church, said, “The Christians have a strong want and will to get their rights. [Meanwhile], I suggested that the priest pray with people at home first and then pray in the church.”

A Muslim who participated in the mob told ICC, “What makes us angry is that when they were building the building where they are praying now, we asked the priest, ‘Is this a church?’ The priest said, ‘No… the owner is building for his kids.’ Now it is as if we have been foolish… we are writing a complaint and we don’t want this priest here in the village.”

On August 25, in the village of Beni Suef located in the Beni Suef Governorate, a policeman tasked with guarding the church from extremists instead aggressively entered the church and hurled insults at the congregation, calling them infidels. The other policemen reportedly remained outside of the church during the incident, and only restrained the offending officer when the worshipers brought him outside. Ibrahim, a member of the local church, said, “The Christian villagers are very distressed and want a strong stand from official persons. It has also become a threat to Christians in the village because they are around 20 families.”

At the beginning of the Eid al-Adha holiday, an attempted suicide attack against the Church of the Virgin Mary in Lower Egypt was thwarted. However, as ICC reported at the time, this is far from a normal response from security forces. A local teacher shared, “We are accustomed to this; that became the normal behavior at every feast or celebration, one terrorist trying to blow up a church or conduct violence like as an Eid gift.”

Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager, said, “Sadly, attacks of this nature are commonplace in Egypt, especially around religious holidays. Objections to the legalization of a church, or even the perceived possibility that a church might be legalized, are often the main purpose of organizing these attacks. The police often let the attacks escalate before interfering or, as demonstrated in the case of the Beni Suef incident, behave in a way that encourages future acts of violence. Egypt’s governing authorities must do more to protect Christians.”

For interviews with Claire Evans, Regional Manager, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]