A mob of angry Muslims surrounded the St. George’s Church in Upper Egypt last week, threatening to kill the priest for defying a ban that restricted church construction.
Father George Thabet, who was serving morning mass, was locked inside the church along with numerous parishioners, while the mob outside reportedly began yelling chants to “kill the priest” and to “cut him to pieces.” The incident stemmed from an earlier conflict in March 2011, when Muslims had first begun pressuring church officials to stop construction on the building, despite the fact that St. George’s possessed a valid renovation license.
The Muslims, who believed that Father George was causing sectarian strife by refusing to comply with the ban, also demanded that he and his family leave the village within 50 days. After learning that the priest was still in the area, the mob began congregating outside the church on June 21.
Security forces arrived five hours after the confrontation began, and escorted Father George from the scene to the Coptic Diocese in Minya. Other parishioners who had been attending the mass remained inside the church to defend it from the angry mob.
The Minya Archdiocese has issued a statement denouncing the incident, and called on government and security officials to uphold the law and provide greater security for the country’s minority Christian population.
In the wake of political instability, Egypt has become the site of increasing sectarian tension and Christian persecution in recent months. Many indigenous believers fear that the existing post-Mubarak era will give way to a new Islamic regime that will make life that much more dangerous for the Christian community, which comprises about 10 percent of the country’s population.
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