Coptic Christians helpless as their churches, homes burn
AL NAZLA, Egypt — Weeks ago, Egyptian Islamists marked Christian homes here with red graffiti that vowed to defend ousted President Mohamed Morsy with “blood.”
Last week, as police and soldiers assaulted two sprawling Islamist protest camps in Cairo, Christians say members of Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood organization looted and burned two churches and a monastery dating to the 16th century.
“There were a lot, like a thousand or more,” said Milad, a custodian at Emir Tadros Monastery, founded in 1598. “As they attacked us, they yelled, ‘Allah is Great!' ”
Like other Christians in this village, Milad would give only his first name, fearing retaliation. He said his son needed 13 stitches to treat a head wound.
The attackers looted all of the monastery's rooms, he said, “and then they burned everything.”
Christian-Muslim confrontations, long a problem in Egypt, turned more frequent and deadlier since the country's 2011 revolution and again after the Brotherhood and other Islamists won control of the government in 2012.
Since Morsy's ouster on July 3, scores of Christian churches, homes and shops have been looted or torched. So many attacks have occurred in the past week that human-rights groups are struggling to track them.
Maspero Youth Union, a Coptic Christian activist group, reports 38 churches and monasteries destroyed and 23 damaged; Bishop Ermia, president of Egypt's Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center, puts the total at 65.
Egypt's interim government has condemned the attacks. But critics say it needs to protect Christians, an estimated 10 percent to 15 percent of the populace.
Hassiba Hadja Sahraoui, Amnesty International's regional deputy director, said the Islamist “backlash against the Coptic Christians should have been anticipated.”
“The tragic attacks were no surprise, given the inflammatory and sectarian language used by some Morsy supporters scapegoating Christians for the crackdown they suffered,” she said.
In Al Nazla, just outside the oasis of Fayoum and about 60 miles from Cairo, Islamists first burned a village police station, according to Ebraam, a deacon at Virgin Mary Church.
That church was later looted and burned, he and other villagers said.
It had opened in April after 13 years of construction – replacing another church, built in 1932, that was burned as well.
The violence did not end until the next day, when Egypt's military declared a dusk-to-dawn curfew, villagers said.
Ebraam said many Christians remain “afraid to go out and buy anything in the village.”
Outside Emir Tadros Monastery, a man on a passing motorcycle laughed loudly while pointing at the wrecked complex that stood unmolested for more than four hundred years.
Now its church is destroyed, the main altar blackened by smoke and covered with burned liturgy. Its domed mural of Jesus surrounded by angels is scorched; much of its ceiling is collapsed, all of its pews burned.
In a smaller chapel, steel beams melted in the fire's heat and the ceiling collapsed.
A bus and other vehicles were torched, too, and garbage bins were overturned “because they thought we have weapons,” said Aiman, another custodian.
Here and at the still-smoldering original Virgin Mary Church, the bones of saints, ancient manuscripts and other relics were destroyed, villagers said.
Inside, graffiti was scrawled on a wall — “Mohamed is the prophet of Allah,” “Islam is the solution” and anti-Christian curses.
“From the beginning of Morsy's rule, (Islamists) began to talk in the streets here in the village,” said Ebraam. “They said, ‘We will rule Egypt for thousands of years.'
“They were talking like they won the game against the Christians.”
He insisted that Christian villagers “tried to stay far away from what was happening.”
He and others said some Muslims joined in trying to protect the churches. “Our neighbors here, the moderate Muslims, they protected our houses, but they couldn't save the churches,” said Ebraam.
But he said Christians have refused to accept compensation from any Muslims because “three-quarters of this village are Muslim Brotherhood.”
Others here claim they recognized friends or neighbors among their attackers. “I don't know why they would do this,” said one man, Fadi, who lives near one of the churches.
For now, parishioners have placed chairs inside the burned walls of the new Virgin Mary Church to hold services.
“Buildings can be rebuilt, but souls can't,” said Ebraam.
Betsy Hiel is the Tribune-Review's foreign correspondent. Email her at email@example.com.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Fights reported, shots fired outside Monroeville Mall restaurant
- Pirates notebook: Is it time for Kang to head to Indy?
- Defense shines in Pitt football spring game
- Water main break causes sinkhole in Shadyside
- Weather, fish combine for memorable opening day of trout season
- MLB notebook: Fox Sports hires Rose as studio analyst
- Girl shot in Mercer County
- NHL notebook: Flames coach Hartley fined $50K for late-game melee
- Lawsuit: Pittsburgh Public Schools should have known officer was abusing boys
- Allegheny County lakes draw big crowds on picturesque opening day
- Western Pa. veterans get wheelchairs, mobility