52 churches in Egypt were reportedly stormed, burnt, and destroyed Wednesday by hardliner Islamists and pro-Morsi supporters, leaving the Coptic Christian community in panic and distress.
The same morning, over 580 people were killed and 4,000 wounded as police and the army removed the two sit-in camps in Cairo. On the fringe of escalating violence, all parties, both Christians and Muslims, are called for restraint from further bloodshed and urged to work towards bringing those responsible to justice.
Reports were made on members of Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of Islamic movements attacking the Egyptian churches and Coptic Christians. The series of attacks is believed to be orchestrated by incendiaries wanting to further destabilize country by breaking the long-standing relationships between Muslims and Christians in Egypt. Besides attacks on Christian communities, 22 police stations were stormed by pro-Morsi supporters.
The Egyptian Family House said in a statement today, “The Family House warns, rejects and condemns all these acts, which were known they would be practiced by some. The House alerts all Egyptians, Muslims and Christians, to maintain and protect houses of worship, and prevent breaking into them by watching over them night and day. It was observed yesterday that many Muslims went to protect and defend churches and this is the Egyptian spirit known over the history of this country, which believes that ‘religion is to God and the homeland is for all.’"
"We call on the state institutions, especially the security devices, to stop immediately anyone heads to churches, or houses of worship in general, to hurt them and bring them to urgent trials to be punished,” the statement wrote.
Bishop Angaelos, the Cairo-born head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, told CNN, “It’s not just about burning churches, it’s about burning churches to initiate a response that then spirals into even greater violence – and that is a very, very dangerous game to play.”
The targeting of churches and Christian properties was not unexpected, Angaelos said, given the tensions in Cairo and elsewhere and in light of escalating attacks on Coptic Christians in recent weeks. However, he acknowledged his surprise at the level of the attacks.
Bible Society of Egypt released a statement on Wednesday, reporting that its bookshops in the cities of Assiut and Minia, in southern Egypt, were completely burnt and destroyed.
“Fortunately we were closed today, fearing such an attack, so none of our staff were injured,” wrote Ramez Atallah, the society’s general director. “The attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire.”
Other stores and parked cars on those streets were also destroyed, he wrote.
“It is important to underline that – while some Christian properties have been the victim of this violence – they are by no means the only ones targeted,” Atallah said.
Besides the churches, houses, monasteries, orphanages, schools and businesses belonging to Copts were attacked in nine provinces.
“This is an attack against the state by a violent minority in an attempt to destabilize the nation.”
President Obama has condemned Thursday morning the violence by both the interim military government and the Muslim Brotherhood and the pro-Morsi protestors.
U.S. State Department Spokeswoman Marie Harf told CNN that America will “continue talking to all parties and all sides about renouncing this violence, about moving forward with a democratic process.”
While attacks against Egypt’s Christian minority are not new, the situation has only gotten worse since Egypt’s revolution that overthrew former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, said Angaelos, the CNN reports.
“In the past two-and-a-half years, we’ve had more deaths of people just because they are Christians than in the last 20 years,” he told CNN. Despite these persecutions, the Christians did not retaliate violently.
Angaelos said he hopes for forgiveness and reconciliation among all Egyptians going forward, to help build a unified country.
Youssef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Christian weekly Watani, said the recent attacks are painful and vicious but it be worse if they are allowed to divide the two faiths, the USA Today reports.
“Christians shouldn’t be moved by this, should be dragged to fulfill the target that lies behind this, which is segregating the national solidarity between Christians and Muslims in the very difficult time Egypt is passing through,” Sidhom said.
Predating the Muslims, Christians have been in Egypt since the 1st century and were, for centuries, the majority. Some 90% of Coptic Christians still live in the country, he said, making up the largest Christian community in the Middle East.
Christians make up about 8 million of Egypt’s population of 80 million and have been victims of series of Muslim hardliner attacks in recent years.