Churches attacked in Egypt

Published 16 August 2013  |  

For 67 years, the Virgin Mary Church was a peaceful refuge for Shenouda El Sayeh, much like the Giza province village of Hafr Hakim where it rests and where he has lived all those years.

However, according to a story by Sarah Sirgany and Laura Smith-Spark for CNN, as he swept its floors on Thursday, it was painfully obvious things had changed.

The night before, a mob - chanting against Coptic Christians such as El Sayeh and calling for Egypt to become an "Islamic state" - had torched and looted the Virgin Mary Church.

"I didn't expect this to happen," CNN reported El Sayeh said.

He's not alone. Christians all around Egypt are cleaning up in the aftermath of a spate of attacks, which not coincidentally came on the county's deadliest day since the 2011 revolution that overthrew longtime President Hosni Mubarak.

Bishop Angaelos, the Cairo-born General Bishop of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said he was told by colleagues in Egypt that 52 churches were attacked in a 24-hour span that started Wednesday, as well as numerous Christians' homes and businesses.

Ishak Ibrahim, a researcher with the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights, told CNN he had confirmed attacks on at least 30 churches so far, in addition to the targeting of church-related facilities, including schools and cultural centres.

Those churches reportedly set ablaze Wednesday included St George Church in Sohag, a city south of Cairo on the Nile River.

And the new day brought new attacks. CNN said Prince Tadros Church in Fayoum, which is southwest of Cairo, was stormed and burned Thursday night, according to the official Middle East News Agency.

This and other attacks have been blamed by some on supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group once led by more recently deposed President Mohamed Morsy. They, too, have reportedly been caught up in the violence.

CNN reported Egypt's health ministry said at least 580 people were killed and more than 4,000 injured amidst clashes involving security forces and Morsy supporters.

What group, if any, is behind the church attacks, and how coordinated this violence has been might not been be sorted out definitely for some time.

Until then, Christians in Egypt are left to try to put things back together, as well as to try to make sense of what's transpired.

As Dalia Ziada of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies told CNN, "This is horrible to happen in only one day."

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