The removal of Mubarak may well have been inevitable, but as was predicted in my earlier post on the likely consequences, this has been very bad for the Coptic Christians of Egypt. This last week the Church of St Mina and St George in Soul (30 k from Cairo) was burned by a Muslim mob reported to be several thousand strong. The clergy are unaccounted for and perhaps more significantly the security forces and fire department declined to intervene. This incident was reportedly triggered by some sort of romantic liaison between a Christian man and Islamic woman (forbidden under Sharia law) and the mob was thought to be enraged that the girl’s father had refused to kill her to restore honour.
The reaction to the burning of the two Saints church in Alexandria was an understandable protest by the Copts. According to a reporter in the area, Yasmine Fathi, the resulting protest of about 1000 Copts was attacked by a large group of Salafists and according to official reports left 13 dead and 110 injured. The two groups threw and stones and Molotov cocktails at one another before the army restored order. The Salafists also attacked several Coptic homes and businesses in the area, setting fire to a house belonging to Shehata Mokades, head of Cairo’s garbage village.
The Salafists represent a significant Islamic grouping who believe it is sinful to oppose or rebel against a Muslim ruler, which they believe to be against the tradition of the teachings of the Prophet. Prior to the burning of the Church the Salafists had also declined to take part in the protests against Mubarak, preferring instead since the uprising to insist that Egypt continue to uphold Article 2 of their Constitution. This article is the one that says Shariaa law is the source of all basic legislation. The Salafist protests have been in favour of insisting that women wear the Niqab (full veil) and stirring up incitement against the Coptic Christians. Yasmine Fathi also reports that The Salafists have also been working with the State Security forces behind the scene and there is certainly talk of the two groups working together to instigate the attack on the Two Saints Church.
In the same report she quotes Mounir Megahd, a spokesperson for Egyptians Against Discrimination, who believed it likely the State Security apparatus had orchestrated the clashes.
“Recent reports released have shown the close ties between the state security apparatus and the Salafist movement,” he adds. “It has been reported that state security has used them to bomb the Two Saints Church in Alexandria (on the first of January).”
This was only the latest of a number of such worrying incidents. Other Christian groups have also been threatened. Last week a Presbyterian school in Thabit St, downtown Asyut, was attacked by a Muslim Brotherhood mob. In this case Egyptian security forces did intervene and disperse the mob.
Not so lucky were two Coptic monasteries on Feb 23 where the attackers were in fact the Egyptian army, who entered with heavy machine guns blazing to sort out what they called zoning problems. Compass Direct (an American based Christian News agency) reported that a Coptic monk was killed and six church workers wounded when the wall at the Coptic Monastery in Wadi Al-Natroun was being destroyed.
The monks claimed they had built the wall to deter raiders. The army attack on the Anba Makarious Sakandarie Monastery was evidently in response to some repair work which had been done without permit. Under laws set up in Ottoman times Churches require state permission to do such repairs and according to the news source such permission is not often granted.
It would not be surprising if we see more such attacks in the next few weeks since the Egyptian police who have been guarding significant Churches and religious centres in recent months have reportedly abandoned their posts since the unrest began. Since the Muslim Brotherhood has been allowed to re-emerge from the shadows, there is understandable concern on the part of Coptic Church leadership. The Salafists are also much more visible since prior to the deposing of Mubarak, they were prepared to support the government. Now having opposed his overthrow, they appear to be under no restraint of prior loyalty. The shape of the intended government is still far from clear, but given the clear intentions of the Muslim Brotherhood to establish a much more overt Muslim presence in Egypt, which may well be supported by Salafists, the Copts will no doubt be hoping that the huge subsidies given by the US to the Egyptian army will continue to act as a restraining force on the worst that might happen.