Egyptian Muslims torch Eight Christian Homes on Rumor of Church Construction

June 27, 2011 by  
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ICC Note: “A mob of nearly 200 Muslims torched eight Christian homes on Saturday morning in the Upper Egyptian village of Awlad Khalaf. The attack was initiated by a rumor that a house which is being built by Wahib Halim Attia will be turned into a church. Two Christians and one Muslim were injured, no fatalities were reported,” Assyrian International News Agency reports.

By Mary Abdelmassih

Egyptian Muslims torch Christian Homes

Egyptian Muslims torch Christian Homes

6/26/2011 Egypt (AINA) – A mob of nearly 200 Muslims torched eight Christian homes on Saturday morning in the Upper Egyptian village of Awlad Khalaf. The attack was initiated by a rumor that a house which is being built by Wahib Halim Attia will be turned into a church. Two Christians and one Muslim were injured, no fatalities were reported.

Wahib Halim Attia obtained a license to build a house in the village on a 95 square meter plot. The house grew to an area of 350 square meters but was still on agricultural land that he owns. This gave rise to the rumor that he intended to build a church instead.

Father Weesa Azmy, the priest at St. George Church in the neighboring village of Negou Madam East, said that someone went to the City Council in Dar es Salam and told them about the irregularities in the house construction, and Wahib was ordered to remove the excess by June 24. “Instead Wahib carried on with the construction, which angered the Muslims, who decided to play God and take the law into their own hands; they attacked the construction site and other Christian homes.”

According to Father Weesa, Muslims broke into the home of Ihab Tamer, who defended himself with a rifle. A Muslim who was there to help Ihab was injured by a bullet in his leg from Tamer’s rifle. The matter was explained and resolved with the family of that Muslim.

According to eyewitnesses the Muslims, mostly Salafists and some youngsters, looted and torched eight homes belonging to Wahib Halim Attia and his two brothers, his three cousins and two other Copts, including Ihab Tamer.

The police arrived three hours after the looting and torching had ended.

Islamic groups join forces for Egyptian elections

June 14, 2011 by  
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Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Montasser al-Zayat CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Hossam el-Hamalawy

Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Montasser al-Zayat CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by Hossam el-Hamalawy

Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood has joined forces with a radical Salafist group to contest the upcoming parliamentary elections in an ominous move for the country’s Christian community. The Muslim Brotherhood, the leading Islamic party in Egypt, has formed a political alliance with Jama’a al-Islamiyya, which was behind a number of terrorist attacks in the 1990s. The two groups announced that they will form a coalition to contest September’s parliamentary elections in order to combat secular forces in the country.

 Muslim Brotherhood lawyer Montasser al-Zayat said, “The Islamic movements are uniting, despite their different ideologies, because they feel Islam is threatened.” And Jama’a al-Islamiyya spokesman Osama Hafez underlined the parties’ commitment to upholding the place of Islam in Egyptian society: “god’s words must rule and Islam must be in the hearts of the citizens”. Amr al-Shobky, an expert at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, said that this religious cooperation reflected an imbalanced political scale, tilted towards the Islamic movements. Despite the Salafi doctrine of non-involvement in democracy and elections, other Salafists have formed a political party, Al Nour, which means “light”. The party says Christians would be given “the right to refer to their religion” but “the higher reference will be for Islamic sharia”.

 Salafist attacks on Christians:

 These are ominous developments for Egypt’s Christians, who have come under attack at the hands of Salafists in a number of high-profile incidents since the revolution. The radical Muslim sect was behind assaults on two churches and homes in Imbaba district, Cairo, in which 12 people were killed and scores injured last month. And in April, Salafists rallied against the appointment of a Christian governor in Qena, Upper Egypt. Some threatened to kill Emad Mikhail if he assumed office; he was suspended for three months by Prime Minister Essam Sharaf in a bid to quell the unrest. Abd Al-Azim, a Jama’a leader in Alexandria, sent this message to Egypt’s Christians following a barrage of attacks against them: If the Christians want safety they should submit to the rule of god and be confident that the Islamic sharia will protect them.

 In other worrying developments, the group recently advocated the formation of a Saudi-style modesty police “to arrest those who commit immoral acts”. Jama’a has been linked to Al-Qaeda, and its spiritual leader Omar Abdel-Rahman is serving a life sentence for his involvement in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Analysing the increased hostility towards Egyptian Christians and the growing power of Islamist groups, Nina Shea of the Hudson Institute, who monitors the situation of religious minorities in the Muslim world, said, “I expect Egypt to become more and more like Iran”, resulting in “an Islamic awakening” in which the state “uses its coercive powers” to induce conformity with sharia law.

 – Barnabas Team

Eritrean Christians facing ‘unimaginable suffering’ in Egypt

June 11, 2011 by  
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Eritrean Christians suffering in EgyptEritrean Christians fleeing persecution in their homeland are facing imprisonment, torture, beatings and sexual assault in Egypt, reports Barnabas Fund.

The charity, which supports the persecuted church worldwide, estimates that hundreds of Eritrean Christian refugees have been subjected to terrible abuse after arriving in Egypt.

Egypt is the most popular destination for Christians escaping from Eritrea, one of the most hostile countries in the world for followers of the faith.

In Eritrea, Christians and evangelicals in particular are viewed as a threat to national security because of their allegiance to God before the state.

As a result, many of them are tortured and imprisoned for their faith in conditions described by Barnabas Fund as “horrendous”.

Persecution has intensified in recent months after an Eritrean governor ordered a purge against Christians at the end of 2010.

The charity said hundreds of Eritrean Christians were risking their lives each month to enter Egypt, where they go in the hope of eventually being able to cross the border into Israel.

A Channel 4 documentary, “Breaking into Israel”, last week charted the harsh 900-mile journey made by Eritrean refugees, some of whom die before reaching their destination. Some are shot dead crossing the Egypt-Israel border and others are caught and returned to Eritrea where they face torture and even death.

According to Barnabas Fund, the majority of the Eritrean refugees are Christians.

It warned that many of them were ending up in Egyptian prisons or being held hostage for $20,000 ransoms in the deserts of Sinai by Bedouin Muslim nomads who work with human traffickers.

According to the charity’s estimates, there are currently between 500 and 600 Eritrean prisoners in Egyptian custody and as many as 200 in the hands of traffickers.

Hostages whose relatives are not able to stump up the ransom are being killed.

There are also unconfirmed reports that the hostage-takers are harvesting the organs of hostages who have been unable to secure the ransom for their release.

Abuse at the hands of the Egyptian authorities or Bedouin gangs includes rape and sexual harrassment, torture, beatings and slavery.

In Sudan, there are also reports of Eritreans being kidnapped from UN refugee camps.

The extent of the suffering is so bad that some Christians in the prisons have been driven to adopting Muslim names, as Muslims receive better treatment than Christians.

Through its partners, Barnabas Fund is helping to relieve the suffering of Eritrean Christians in prison by funding medicine and basic necessities such as food, clothes and sanitary products.

It has helped to secure the release of three refugees and paid legal fees to one prison to enable another 23 to be seen and registered by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR).

Its partners said the reason for the abuse was the refugees’ Christian faith.

They said: “The situation on the ground is expected to keep on deteriorating while the number of refugees is increasing.”

Barnabas Fund is appealing to Christians to pray for Eritrean Christians who have fled, as well as those who have stayed behind in Eritrea.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said: “The suffering of our brothers and sisters from Eritrea is unimaginable.

“They are in great danger from their government, which is one of the most severe persecutors of Christians in the world, and if they flee in the hope of a better life elsewhere, they face imprisonment, kidnap, torture, rape, beatings and even death.

“They desperately need our help today.”

– Amy Shank  ( Christian Today )

Islamic Extremists attack Churches in Cairo, Egypt

May 10, 2011 by  
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Islamic Extremists Attack Churches in Cairo, Egypt

Islamic Extremists Attack Churches in Cairo, Egypt

As chaos grows, Christians increasingly vulnerable.
CAIRO, Egypt, May 9 (CDN) — At least 12 people were killed and more than 200 were wounded when members of a conservative Muslim movement attacked two churches and surrounding Christian-owned homes and businesses in a poor section of Cairo on Saturday (May 7).

Salifis, a hard-line Islamic movement with extremist tendencies, set fire to one of the two church buildings, leaving most of it gutted. The arson attack on the Virgin Mary Church in Imbaba was one of many recent assaults on Coptic Christians by members of the Salafist movement, and the second time in two months that a church building in the country has been set ablaze.

The Rev. Mittias Ilias, head priest of the Virgin Mary Church in Imbaba, said the attack was senseless and beyond trying to explain with words.

“We don’t talk – the church screams for itself,” he said. “The church has five floors, and there is no space where the fire didn’t reach. The floors, the ceiling, the pillars, the church box, the chairs, the icons, all of it – everything was burned. Just give me one reason for all that. There is no reason for all that, nothing.”

The first attack started early Saturday evening (May 7) at St. Mina Church in Imbaba, one of the poorest districts of Cairo. A rumor spread that a Coptic woman who allegedly converted to Islam was being held in the church against her will. No one contacted by Compass in Imbaba could say definitively how the rumor got started, but by 7:30 p.m., according to one victim of the attack, crowds of Muslims chanting Islamic slogans and shouting Osama bin Laden’s name began marching down the streets.

Coptic community members began calling each other about a potential attack, and many started to gather at the church building. The Coptic men dragged pews and other furniture out of the building and built barricades on the streets that access it.

In attempts to dispel the rumor, the head clergy members of St. Mina allowed a group of Islamic imams into the church building to search for the woman. The imams declared to the gathering Muslims that the woman wasn’t in the building, according to witnesses at the scene.

Reports of who struck the first blows were contradictory, but the Salafist crowd was not dissuaded by the imams’ report, and by 8:30 p.m. the fight had started.

Christian witnesses of the attack said the Salafis, carrying knives and other weapons, attacked the men on the barricades, eventually hurling Molotov cocktails at them. There were numerous reports that the Salafis were armed with military-style assault weapons.

Muslim community members and at least one Egyptian Army officer said the Copts had weapons, a charge that all Copts interviewed vehemently denied.

Ramses Roushdy, 43, was injured in the attack. He said a piece of glass went into his eye from an exploding Molotov cocktail while he was defending his father, a lay leader in the church.

“It wasn’t like a rock or a stone hit me,” he said. “It was like there was an explosion, and a bunch of fragments hit me all over my body.”

The mob also attacked Coptic-owned business in Imbaba and apartments adjacent to the church. Roushdy’s cousin, Nashaat Ratieb, who lived close to the church, was killed in those attacks. According to local media reports, another man whose apartment was raided jumped to his death rather than face his attackers.

Second Attack
After unsuccessfully trying to push through the barricades, the mob went to the Virgin Mary Church, an undefended building a 10-minute walk from St. Mina. According to Ilias, the mob shot through locks on the church doors, went in and set the building on fire.

A few men were in the building when it was attacked. All escaped except for one, Salah Aziz, the church attendant. A group of youths trying to extinguish embers from the fire discovered his body in a side room of the sanctuary that was used a baptismal, Ilias said.

“We are believers. We believe that whoever dies goes to heaven to be with Christ,” Ilias said. “But myself and all of us personally, we get upset and feel bad for his family, his wife and children.”

The fire gutted the five-story structure except for a small chapel on the top floor of the building, which sustained substantial smoke damage. A few items scattered throughout the church building – mostly charred pews and one icon – were unscathed.

Ilias said he didn’t know how long it would take to reconstruct the building. The congregation will continue worshipping in the gutted building and hold services in shifts between renovation stints; they have no choice.

“Where are we going to go?” Ilias said. “Where are the people going to pray?”

Government Response
The army and security forces did not arrive on the scene until two hours after the attacks had almost fizzled out, according to witnesses.

Fire crews were deployed to the scene but did not get the fire under control for four hours. By Sunday (May 8), officials had cordoned off the area around both church buildings, established a curfew and blocked all media access the scene of the St. Mina attack.

The army allowed partial access to the Virgin Mary Church. Local media reported today that the army has pledged to rebuild the damaged building.

Demonstrations about the attacks continued to surge through areas of Cairo today, with reports of several demonstrators being arrested or injured.

Saturday’s attacks were most serious of a string of attacks and threats made by Salafis against Coptic Christians since the fall of the Hosni Mubarak regime earlier this year. Since the government collapse, members of the movement have ratcheted up their attacks and their rhetoric against the Copts, going as far as to cut off the ear of a Coptic man in Qena they accused of renting an apartment to prostitutes.

The movement, some Copts said, is trying to incite violence between the Muslim majority and the Coptic minority, now estimated to be 7 to 10 percent of Egypt’s population of 83 million. On Friday (May 6), several thousand Copts gathered at St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo in response to threats made by Salafis, who pattern their belief and practices on the first three generations of Muslims.

The Salafis demanded the church hand over a woman they say converted to Islam from Christianity; they claim the church is hiding her. There is no proof the woman ever converted. She has appeared publicly twice, once in a recorded statement in October and once on live TV on Saturday stating she wasn’t a Muslim and had never converted.

The Salafis had declared they were going to protest outside the church building after making a week of threats against Christians, including a threat to kill the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church, Pope Shenouda III. The leaders of the Salafi protest later canceled the demonstration so they could protest the killing of Bin Laden at the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. Fady Phillip, 25, a member of the church at the counter-protest, said he thought the Salafis were trying to provoke a civil war in Egypt along religious lines.

“They are going to deny they are provoking a civil war,” he said. “They can claim that as much as they want, but who can understand that they would break into my church in order to take the pope as a hostage and ask all the Christians to be silent?”

Some Wary of Black-Listing Egypt for Rights Violations

May 5, 2011 by  
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Human rights activists, clergy believe designation would be counterproductive.

Protest in Cairo over Demolition of Church

Protest in Cairo over Demolition of Church

5/5/2011 Egypt (Compass Direct News) – Placing Egypt on a U.S. State Department list that penalizes countries for their lack of religious freedom would be a mistake, according to some Egyptian human rights activists and Christian leaders.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) issued its annual report on April 28, recommending that Egypt be placed on the list of “Countries of Particular Concern,” or CPCs. While many in Egypt agree with the report’s assertion that religious persecution and sectarian violence are serious issues in Egypt, some said the designation would be counterproductive and would give the burgeoning government a black eye before it has a chance to address the issues.

“We don’t think it is helpful to add Egypt to any black list this year,” said Hossam Bahgat, director of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. “It sends a negative message that Egypt is worse off this year now that it is not being ruled by a dictator.”

The USCIRF report covers the time period from April 1, 2010 to March 31, 2011. The Egyptian revolution beginning Jan. 25 culminated in President Hosni Mubarak stepping down on Feb. 11 of this year.

The USCIRF is a governmental advisory board that was created by the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act. The body advises the U.S. State Department on the status of religious freedom in countries around the world, and among its statutory responsibilities is issuing an annual report recommending certain countries be designated as CPCs. The designation can lead to a range of actions against the listed country, including diplomatic censure, forbidding the transfer of military technology and ending economic aid.

Egypt has been on the USCIRF’s “Watch List” since 2002, but this is the first time the commission has recommended Egypt be placed on the CPC list, a sign of the deteriorating state of religious freedom in the country, USCIRF Chairman Leonard Leo said in a press statement issued with the report.

“CPCs are nations whose conduct marks them as the world’s worst religious freedom violators and human rights abusers,” Leo stated. “In the case of Egypt, instances of severe religious freedom violations engaged in or tolerated by the government have increased dramatically since the release of last year’s report, with violence, including murder, escalating against Coptic Christians and other religious minorities. Since President Mubarak’s resignation from office in February, such violence continues unabated without the government’s bringing the perpetrators to justice. Consequently, USCIRF recommends CPC designation for Egypt.”

Bahgat said that although there is no evidence that the number of attacks has increased from this time last year, there have been “qualitative changes” in the attacks that he finds “very disturbing.”

“For the first time, we saw the complete demolition of a church,” Bahgat said, referring to the March burning of a church building in Sool. “Attacks against churches are common, but this is first the first time we have seen the destruction of a church.”

Along with the arson attack, Al Qiddissin Church in Alexandria was bombed at the close of a New Year’s Eve celebratory mass. Twenty-three people were killed and scores injured. Eleven days later, in an unrelated incident in Minya Province, an off-duty police officer attacked a group of Christians, shooting one to death and injuring five others. The motivation behind the killing is still unclear.

In March a group of Salafi Muslims cut off the ear of a Coptic man for allegedly renting an apartment to a group of prostitutes. The Copt denied the allegations. The Salafis, who according to the victim tried to force him to convert to Islam, said they were executing justice under Islamic law.

With the exception of the Minya shooting, Bahgat said all the incidents have one thing in common; there has been no criminal persecution of anyone involved, including last month’s attacks in Minya.

On April 19, a mob set numerous Christian homes and businesses on fire after a dispute between a Christian and at least two Muslims over the placement of a speed bump led to a riot.

“There is no one in jail or on trial for the destruction of the church or the attack on the man in Qena,” Bahgat said.

 

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