The military’s ouster of President Mohammed Morsi has unleashed a new wave of violence by extremist Muslims against Christians whom they blame for having supported the calls to overthrow Morsi, Egypt’s first Islamist elected leader, according to rights activists.
Since Morsi’s ouster July 3, the activists say, a priest has been shot dead in the street, Islamists have painted black X’s on Christian shops to mark them for arson and angry mobs have attacked churches and besieged Christians in their homes. Four Christians were reported slaughtered with knives and machetes in one village last week.
The attacks have hit across the country, in the northern Sinai Peninsula, in a resort town on the Mediterranean coast, in Port Said along the Suez Canal and in isolated villages in upper Egypt.
Tensions between the Christian minority and extremist elements in the Muslim majority are not new, but many cite anger among Islamists at the removal of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood from power as fuelling the recent increase in violence.
Many Christians were alarmed at the victories of Islamists in elections after the 2011 revolution that overthrew Morsi’s autocratic predecessor, Hosni Mubarak. Although Christians by no means represented a majority of the anti-Morsi rallies that preceded Morsi’s downfall, Christians did participate in the campaigns to remove Morsi that so deeply antagonized his supporters.
“They thought Christians played a big role in the protests and in the army’s intervention to topple Morsi, so this is revenge for that,” said Ishaq Ibrahim, who has documented the violence for the Cairo-based Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, or EIPR.
Many Islamist leaders blamed Christians and holdovers from the Mubarak era for the mass protests against Morsi that took place on the June 30 anniversary of his swearing-in. Even rank-and-file Islamists maintaining a sit-in in a Cairo suburb calling for Morsi’s return often have spoken spitefully of what they described as Christian collusion.
In some places, Christians were warned not to participate in the anti-Morsi protests. Fliers distributed in the upper Egypt province of Minya, documented by EIPR, warned that “one liter of gas can light up your gold, wood, plumbing, tractor, carpentry shops, buses, cars, houses, churches, schools, agricultural fields and workshops.”
They were signed “people who care for the country.”
After Morsi’s ouster, Islamist mobs in the village of Dagala in that province looted one church, burned a building belonging to another and surrounded Christian homes, shattering their widows with rocks and clubs, EIPR said.
After one Christian man shot at the attackers from his roof, they dragged his wife from the house, beat her up and shot her. She is currently hospitalized, according to EIPR.
“The police came the day after the events, and they didn’t do anything,” Ibrahim said. “People prevented the fire engines from coming in so they couldn’t do anything.”
In the village of Naga Hassan near Luxor, Muslim mobs invaded Christian homes and set them alight while besieging other Christians in their homes. Security forces arrived to evacuate the women but left the men, four of whom were subsequently stabbed and beaten to death, Ibrahim said. One of them, Emile Nessim, was a local organizer for the tamarrod, or “rebellion,” campaign that collected signatures and organized mass protests against Morsi.
Dozens of Christian homes were reported burned in the Naga Hassan attacks, and most of the village’s Christians have fled or are believed to be hiding in the local church.