Egypt Coptic Christians restrain anger
29 August 2013, 17:44
Minya - Coptic Christians in the Upper Egyptian city of
Minya are managing to restrain their anger despite a wave of devastating
attacks on their churches and institutions by enraged Islamists.
Tensions are still running high more than two weeks after
the attacks in the city at least 250km south of Cairo but there have been no
calls for vengeance, nor any fiery rhetoric.
"I say to the Islamists who attacked us that we are not
afraid of their violence and their desire to exterminate the Copts," said
Botros Fahim Awad Hanna, the archbishop of Minya.
"If we are not hitting back, it is not because we are
afraid, but because we are sensible," he said.
Enraged by a bloody crackdown mid-August on protests in
support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi in Cairo, Islamists lashed out at
Coptic Christians in Minya, accusing them of backing the military that toppled
the head of state.
The Copts, who account for some 10 million out of Egypt's
population of 80 million, had already suffered persecution in recent years.
But they say they have never such a systematic campaign as
"We were expecting a violent reaction but not on this
scale, which suggests it was well prepared," the archbishop said.
In the greater Minya province, where Christians account for
about one-fifth of the five million population, Christians say they have
suffered systematic and coordinated violence since mid-August.
According to Human Rights Watch, more than 40 churches have
been attacked in Egypt since 14 August, when the security forces launched a
bloody crackdown against demonstrations demanding the return of Morsi, who was
toppled by the military on 3 July.
The attacks have been concentrated in Minya and Assiut, in
central Egypt, where attackers torched 11 and eight churches respectively, the
US-based rights group said.
Islamists accused Egypt's Copts of throwing their weight
behind the military coup that removed from power the Muslim Brotherhood, from
which Morsi hails.
The perception was fuelled by the fact that Coptic Pope
Tawadros II appeared with army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi when he spoke
on television to announce Morsi's removal from office.
At the ruins of Saint Moses' church in Minya, Bassam
Youssef, a Copt, despairs at the sight of the rounded building with its clock
tower, now ravaged by fire.
"Some 500 extremists attacked the building and set it
on fire," Youssef recalled.
"We did not expect such violence," he added,
showing pictures of the church before its destruction.
"Look at this beautiful mosaic that decorated the
interior balcony, there's nothing left and we will need five to six years to
The centre of Minya is a tangle of shops bearing a mix of
Christian and Muslim names, and home to both churches and mosques, some just
dozens metres from each other.
Compassion for the attackers
Not far from Saint Moses' church, Um Saleh watched over what
is left of the Coptic school, which was also set alight.
"We heard them calling for jihad [holy war] and we
rushed out of the area, terrified," she recalled.
From one of the windows of the school, it is possible to see
the scorched dome of the Prince Theodore church. Several metres away, a Coptic
orphanage has also been burned.
"May God forgive you despite what you have done,"
reads a slogan daubed on the walls of the orphanage, now empty of its young
At the headquarters of the Jesuit Brothers' development
association in the town, Father Biman is working to clear the debris after the
Fire destroyed the library, a nursery and the offices, but
spared the nearby church of Saint Mark, which has stood there for 125 years.
"I am very angry," Biman says, before regaining
his composure. "I also have compassion for the attackers, who have been
brainwashed". He points to his T-shirt, which has a slogan on it calling
to spread love around the world.
Maria Hanaa, an official at the Jesuit association, sees the
attacks as a direct result of the community's antipathy towards Morsi.
"We demonstrated against president Morsi and it is the
first time we did it, and we paid the price," she says.
"We marched because we felt that we were going to lose
the country. We thought that they were going to bring justice, but we saw that
they were only looking for power".