New episodes of violent turmoil have caused thousands of Egyptian Christians to protest the growing religious persecution that has plagued the country in recent months.
The latest attacks took place last Saturday, May 7, and were the result of a rumor that a Christian woman who wanted to convert to Islam was being held against her will at the St. Mena Coptic Orthodox Church, one of the oldest churches in Egypt. When a crowd of angry Muslims descended upon the church on Saturday, hundreds of Christians rushed to defend it, engaging in a conflict that left 12 dead and over 200 injured. In the ensuing violence that included gunfire and gasoline bombs, dozens of Christian homes and businesses were attacked before many of the Muslims left the scene to head for the nearby Church of the Holy Virgin, which was subsequently burned to the ground.
The day after the attacks, approximately 5,000 Christians organized a protest in downtown Cairo, calling for an end to the hostility that has continually terrorized Egypt’s Christian community. While many believe that the most recent attacks are a stark indication of the government’s failure to establish law and order since former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down in February 2011, Christians have increasingly become the victims of violence and persecution for over the past year. Incidents have included a drive-by shooting that killed six Coptic Christians outside a church in January 2010, and in December of that same year, a suicide bombing just outside a New Year’s Eve church service in Alexandria killed 21 parishioners and left dozens more injured. The New Year’s Eve bombing was hailed as the deadliest attack against Christians in Egypt’s recent history.
Anti-Christian aggression in the country has become so intense that the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom has flagged Egypt as a “Country of Particular Concern,” citing in its 2010 report that the Egyptian government has “contributed to a climate of impunity that encouraged further assaults” against Coptic Christians. The Commission recommended that the United States direct its existing military assistance in the region towards the protection of minority Christians.
“The situation is so difficult for Christians here nowadays,” says one Christian man in Egypt, who recently contacted Christian Freedom International (CFI), a Michigan-based organization that assists persecuted Christians around the world. “We are so persecuted….we really need help. I cannot find a job, and life is so hard for us. We are suffering here in Egypt.”
CFI, an organization that provides humanitarian aid and advocacy in other countries such as Burma, India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, encourages all Christians to pray for the safety of the church in Egypt.
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