Christians persecuted by Muslims in EgyptBarnabas Fund – 9th May 2011

Egyptian Christians came under attack at the weekend as Islamists set fire to two churches and Christian property, resulting in clashes that left 12 dead and more than 200 injured.

The unrest, which broke out in north-west Cairo on Saturday, has been described as one of the most serious outbreaks of sectarian violence since the revolution.

As several hundred Salafist Muslims descended on a church in Imbaba district, Christians barricaded themselves inside and around the building in a bid to protect it and, as demonstrations turned violent, Islamists stormed a six-storey residential building, claiming Christian snipers were positioned inside. Fire bombs were thrown at the church and at Christian homes and shops; the Muslim mob later attacked a second church, setting it ablaze.

The attackers chanted, “With our blood and soul, we defend you Islam” while Christians complained about the lack of security. One church leader said: They are people who are systematically attacking us and there are no police or military to protect us.

False allegations

The violence was triggered by false but long-running allegations that the Egyptian church is holding captive women whom Muslims claim have converted to Islam. The Muslim mob gathered on Saturday evening after one of the women, a church leader’s wife, gave a televised interview denying the rumours and saying that she remained a Christian and had never become a Muslim.

The Egyptian church has refused to cede Muslim demands that the woman be handed over, fearing for her welfare and safety. They are also concerned that the case may set a precedent that will endanger Christian women more generally.

In Egypt Christian women and girls are frequently kidnapped by Muslims, forced to convert to Islam and married off to Muslim men. If they revert to Christianity, they are considered apostates from Islam, for which they are liable to be killed under Islamic law. Although the Islamic apostasy law is not in force in Egypt, the women can be murdered by zealous Muslims intent on enforcing sharia regardless. If those who are able to escape and return to their Christian families are likely to be handed back to their Muslim captors, their lives may then be in serious danger. The police rarely exert themselves to assist in rescuing the kidnapped women and girls.

The dispute over the women was the motive for the siege at a Baghdad church last October in which more than 50 people were killed. An Al-Qaeda front group claimed responsibility for that attack and, when a 48-hour deadline for the release of the women expired, threatened further violence against Christians.

Escalating insecurity for Christians

Christians have been coming under growing attack in Egypt since the fall of President Hosni Mubarak, whose strict regime kept hard-line Islamist groups on a leash. These groups are now emerging as a powerful force in the security vacuum that has developed since his departure, mounting aggressive demonstrations against perceived threats to Islam.

Christians who were protesting against the burning down of a church in Soul by Islamists came under attack by a Muslim mob in March; 13 people were killed and 140 wounded in the ensuing clashes.

There has been little protection for Christians in post-Mubarak Egypt but, in light of Saturday’s violence, the military has now stepped up security at places of worship and promised tougher measures against anyone who attacks them. The government also promised to restore all property and churches to how they were, and 190 people were arrested in connection with the unrest.

Distorted reporting

The overwhelming consensus of reports about Saturday’s violence indicated that it was religiously motivated and started by Muslims intent on further destabilising the position of the country’s beleaguered Christian community. But some early reports by the BBC suggested it was primarily political strife, playing down the religious element and giving only the Muslims’ viewpoint. Questions are now being asked about their version of events when many other news outlets, including the Muslim-owned Al-Jazeera, gave a more accurate, fair and full report, including the Christian viewpoint.

Dr Patrick Sookhdeo, International Director of Barnabas Fund, said: Far from delivering a secular country, post-revolution Egypt is becoming increasingly characterised by an Islamist agenda, with Christians coming under growing attack. It is disturbing that this is not being accurately reported by the BBC, and I urge people to write to them to complain about this.

Complain to the BBC online here, or write to, BBC Complaints, PO Box 1922, Darlington, DL3 0UR.

Please Pray

 For peace between Christian and Muslim communities in Egypt, and that the authorities will take tough action, as they have promised, against those who incite tensions with vandalism and violence.
 That the Egyptian church will have wisdom in how to respond to the ongoing false allegations about the women; pray also that Christian women will be protected from Islamist schemes to kidnap and convert them.
 That those who have lost loved ones and/or property in Saturday’s violence will be comforted and provided for.

Give Today

If you would like to help Christians affected by the violence in Egypt, please send your donation to project 00-345 (Victims of Violence). Please click to donate online using our secure server.

If you prefer to telephone, dial: 07 3806 1076 or 1300 365 799. Please quote project reference 00-345 (Victims of Violence).

If you prefer to send a cheque by post: Click this link for the address of our regional office. Please quote project reference 00-345 (Victims of Violence).

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