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March 07, 2011

Anti-Christian Rampage in Egypt Goes Unnoticed

People who follow the #copts or #helwan hashtags on Twitter will know that on Saturday, a Church in the town of Sool (or Sol) was attacked by a mob of Muslims after intra-Muslim violence that took place the day before. Al Masry Al Youm reports that “Two men have been killed during clashes between Muslims and Christians, which culminated in Muslims setting fire to the Shaidain church in Sol, a security official said on Saturday."

The act of arson, which so far has received very little coverage in the West, took place, according to Al Masry Al Youm "after a row sparked by relationship between a Christian man and a Muslim woman."

The Assyrian International News Agency (AINA) reports:

This incident was triggered by a relationship between 40-year-old Copt Ashraf Iskander and a Muslim woman. Yesterday a "reconciliation" meeting was arranged between the relevant Coptic and Muslim families and together with the Muslim elders it was decided that Ashraf Iskander would have to leave the village because Muslims torched his house.

The father of the Muslim woman was killed by his cousin because he did not kill his daughter to preserve the family's honor, which led the woman's brother to avenge the death of his father by killing the cousin. The village Muslims blamed the Christians.

The violence began between Muslims, but after two deaths the violence was then directed at Coptic Christians. This indicates that the Coptic community has become a unifying scapegoat. The phrase “unifying scapegoat” is used by Rene Girard to describe how communities in crisis and in conflict will end the violence between them by choosing an outsider to murder.

According to Girard, the benefit of this process is that it unifies the community in question, albeit at the cost of an outsider. In this case, the Muslim community living in Helwan, achieved peace by agreeing to direct their anger and rage at their fellow citizens -- Coptic Christians.

Video of the aftermath of the attack can be seen here. A roughly translated interview of a Coptic Bishop about the attack can be seen here.

Only the most obtuse and evasive can deny the troubling implications of this attack, which the Egyptian military failed to stop.

The Copts are Egyptian citizens, but it appears state officials in Egypt are not all that interested in protecting their rights. After the attack the Egyptian military promised to investigate and rebuild the church in Helwan, but the damage is done and the signal has been sent. Copts are the low-cost target of choice.

After the attack, Coptic Christians and their allies in the Muslim community protested in Tahrir Square. Moreover, some Copts who fled the violence in Helwan were able to find refuge in the homes of their Muslim neighbors.

Run this page from a Coptic news site through google translate and you’ll find indications that the land on which the destroyed church is located is still under the control of rioters – who intend to build a mosque on the ruins of the destroyed church. The military is encouraging the Coptic community to have a new church built somewhere else.

Reaching a Crescendo?

This attack is not the only one to have taken place since Mubarak’s ouster.
On Feb. 16, 2011, a Church in Rafah was burnt. The perpetrators wrote “No to Christians in Muslim Land.” Video of the aftermath of this attack is available here.

On Feb. 17, 2011, a group of Muslims attacked Christians inside a church in the village of El-Hathata. The attacked was prompted by the construction of a roof over a courtyard.

On Feb. 19, 2011 a Coptic woman was abducted from her home. AINA reported that “The abductors wrote messages on the home's wall, the messages said ‘Islam is the solution’ and ‘The Church has to be demolished.’ The abductors also wrote the names of the other family members on the wall.” A neighbor to the family said she believes the writing of the names “of the rest of the family might mean their turn is coming.”

Military Involvement

On Feb. 20 and 21, 2011, Egyptian armed forces demolished brick fences built around two Coptic monasteries. AINA reports that the fences, built to protect the monasteries from criminals who were released from Egyptian prisons during the Jan. 25 Uprising, were demolished by Egyptian soldiers equipped with heavy equipment and armored vehicles.

They were apparently incited to engage in this behavior by “a fanatical Muslim officer.” AINA coverage of these attacks is available here. Video documenting the attacks can be seen here and here. More details can be found here.

The events involving the two monasteries are particularly troubling. Compare the behavior of the Egyptian military when it came out onto the streets of Cairo and Tahrir Square on Jan. 28, 2011. The soldiers fraternized with the protestors, did not enforce the curfew they announced and promised to protect the safety of the Egyptian people. When the priests at the Coptic monasteries asked for protection from the prisoners who escaped from prison during the uprising, military officials told them to protect themselves.

And once the Coptic leaders followed this advice and constructed the walls around their monasteries, the military responded with force and even fired live ammunition during the confrontation. The double standard is obvious.

These acts of violence against the Copts by the military suggest that the Muslim Brotherhood has already penetrated the Egyptian military, which is invoked as a supposed bulwark against Islamist extremism. These attacks, like the military’s failure to act in Helwan, send a troubling signal to the Egyptian population that future attacks against Coptic Christians will be condoned or worse encouraged by the military.

People appear to be acting on this signal.

For example, on Feb. 22, 2001, right after the confrontation at the monasteries, a Coptic Priest was found stabbed to death in his home in the city of Assiut.

Will this outrageous behavior get the coverage it deserves in the Western media? Or will this incipient ethnic cleansing be ignored?

Posted by dvz at March 7, 2011 12:02 PM

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