Attacks on Christians in Egypt were preventable, group says

By Morning Star News |
Homes torched in Al-Fawakher village, Samalut, Egypt, on April 23, 2024.
Homes torched in Al-Fawakher village, Samalut, Egypt, on April 23, 2024. | (Screenshot form video on X)

Attacks on two predominantly Christian villages in Egypt last week came after days of rising tensions, which the state’s security services did nothing to quell despite being notified of impending danger to Christians, according to a human rights group.

On April 23 and then again on Friday (April 26), hundreds of Muslims took to the streets and attacked Christians, first in Al-Fawakher and then in Al-Koum Al-Ahmar village, both in Minya Governate. Enraged villagers launched the attacks ostensibly to prevent construction of church buildings at each site.

Clergy from the Coptic Orthodox Church had notified security service officials four days prior to the first attack that hostilities toward the Christians had reached a breaking point, according to a statement issued Monday (April 29) by the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. On April 20, Muslim villagers in Al-Fawakher had attacked three houses with Molotov cocktails in response to a rumor that a Copt’s house was going to be used for worship, according to EIPR.

“Security services failed to intervene to prevent attacks before they occurred, despite their prior knowledge of the existence of tensions and sectarian incitement,” the group said.

The day of the firebombing, the principal of the Al-Fawakher elementary school began bullying several Coptic schoolgirls. When the girls’ parents confronted him, the principal expelled the students.

Moderate villagers had warned Christian friends that an attack was certain, and the Archdiocese of Minya requested help a second time but was largely ignored, according to EIPR. By 10:30 p.m., crowds were on the streets firing weapons into the air and chanting Islamic slogans.

The villagers started attacking Christian-owned homes with bricks and stones and eventually more gasoline bombs. The homes that weren’t burned were looted by the rioters. They beat several Christian women, though none suffered serious injury. Videos of the attack later surfaced on social media with posts stating the attacks were against Christians “trying to build a church in the village.”

The attack on Christians in Al-Koum Al-Ahmar started on Friday (April 26) shortly after Islamic noon prayers. It was not publicly known if mosque leaders mentioned Christians or churches at the Friday prayers, but shortly afterward crowds chanting anti-Christian slogans began gathering in the streets.

The crowd swarmed through the Christian neighborhoods smashing doors and windows of Christian-owned homes with stones, according to EIPR. They then went to a plot of land that had been set aside by an evangelical church for the construction of a worship hall and destroyed building supplies stored there. They also damaged three cars.

Location of Minya Governorate in Egypt.
Location of Minya Governorate in Egypt. | (TUBS, Creative Commons)

An evangelical congregation bought the land in 2000 for a church building but tried unsuccessfully to obtain the required license until 2023. In January, after the congregation obtained permission to construct the building, roughly 100 villagers gathered at the site to prevent it. They had heard that some sort of agreement had been reached for the church construction.

Egypt has a long-standing practice of restricting or even forbidding construction or renovation of church buildings. In 2016, the government passed the Law for Building and Restoring Churches that brought welcome changes in approvals for construction and renovation of worship halls, but significant hurdles remain for Christians who want a dedicated building for their congregation. Even if a congregation receives government approval to build, Islamists willing to employ violence can put off construction indefinitely.

There is no church building in Al-Fawakher or surrounding villages. The closest church site is an hour away by car. The village’s 40 Christian families rely on itinerant priests who meet with them in their homes. Al-Koum Al-Ahmar has a church building where Orthodox Christians meet but none for evangelicals.

The attacks were hardly the first to take place in the governorate and should not have come as a surprise to Egyptian authorities in Minya, according to EIPR. There were three other violent uprisings to stop the church construction in the governorate since September.

EIPR affirmed that the April 23 and 26 attacks were not “individual incidents” that were exceptional or coincidental, as government and Islamic apologists often claim, but were predictable events that could have been deterred.

“State institutions should not be subject to the blackmail of aggressors, as it is not its responsibility to respect the feelings of those who may provoked by the existence of houses of worship for Christians, but rather the state is required to protect freedom of religion and the right to practice religious rites for all its citizens,” the EIPR stated. “Instead of intervening to protect the rights of their citizens to practice religious rites and redress the damage caused to them, official state institutions closed and prevented the construction of churches.”

Egypt ranked 38th on Open Doors’ 2024 World Watch List of the 50 countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.

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