– International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that four churches in different Upper Egypt villages have been targeted by hardline Islamic extremists. In each of these villages, the extremists formed a mob and attacked the churches, which were seeking official recognition. In each of these incidents, the police denied the rights of Christians to publicly worship and closed the churches, according to the demands of the mob.
On January 7, which is Orthodox Christmas, extremists gathered to demonstrate against the Mar Girgis Church in the village of Manshiyet Zafarana. According to astatement issued by the Archbishopric of al-Minya and Abu Qirqas, “More than 1,000 militants demonstrated against the church, chanting offensive and inflammatory statements in the presence of security forces. [They] asked them to calm down and promised them that they would do whatever they wanted to remove the people (Christians) from the place and close it.”
A mob also formed against a church in the village of Abo Karkas on January 11. The situation echoed earlier incidents in the village of Kafr el-Mansoura on December 27 and the village of Kom Al-Raheb on December 9.
In total, Egyptian authorities have closed four churches within the last four and a half weeks. No formal procedures against the attackers of these churches have begun. Instead, in the village of Manshiyet, the police arrested the church’s priests and transported them to the station in a car used for carrying animals and garbage.
This wave of incidents, coupled with the police response, has greatly alarmed Egypt’s Christian community. Andro, a Christian lawyer, told ICC, “The police behaved by an offensive way. They behaved with the priests as [they would with]… killers. How dare the police cuff the priests! It is a shame on the Copts there.”
Father Sami, a local priest, also shared with ICC, “What happened frightened us. I am a priest and it is possible for the police to cuff me if the extremist neighboring Muslims protest or gathered in front of my church. Things are getting worse, but let us pray to make God keep us in peace.”
“The police behaved as usual,” lamented one local Christian. “The difference is that the situation was shot by a cell phone. The good thing is that the unfairness of the police is recorded now. Maybe we can get our rights.”
The wave of church closures comes just one week after President Fatah al-Sisi presented a new cathedral as a “gift” to Christians. While the new cathedral was welcomed by many, President al-Sisi was also criticized for building a new church in a location where Christians do not live, while other churches languish and close because of heavy restrictions enforced by his government.
“We could build the biggest cathedral in the desert!” Mina, a Christian photographer, told ICC. “Now let us close the churches which are in poor places, where the poor and weak people can pray. The hate has become more direct and clear towards Christians.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “It is no coincidence that Egypt’s Christians have been so heavily targeted by extremists within the past four weeks. They are often singled out during the celebration of Christian holidays, such as Christmas. These incidents also demonstrate how the police often contribute to the problem by adhering to the mob’s demands, even allowing the mob to rage on with no consequences for their violent actions. President al-Sisi has taken the symbolic step of opening a new cathedral during this time. He must now take action to protect the rights of Christians to worship in other churches.”