Muslim attacks on Christians in Egypt spiralling out of control

Christians mourners of Minya, Egypt following a mass execution by Islamic State

A senior bishop has issued a warning of an exponential spiralling of attacks on Christians in Egypt, home to three-quarters of all Christians in the Middle East.

Bishop Angaelos, head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in the United Kingdom, said in a statement that Egypt had become more vulnerable to a disturbing wave of radicalism because of recent events.

"It is regrettable that the time has come yet again to speak of heightened, targeted attacks against Coptic Christians in Egypt. Tensions against Egypt's indigenous Christian community have again escalated over the past few months, and will spiral even further if not immediately addressed," he warned.

The main catalysts were inflammatory false rumours of affairs between Christians and Muslims, of new churches being built and a growing trend of directly targeting priests and their families.

"At their most brutal, these recent attacks have culminated in the burning of churches and places of worship, the stripping and public parading of 70-year-old Souad Thabet, and the senseless murder of Father Raphael Moussa," he said.

Bishop Angaelos of the Coptic Orthodox Church at an Easter reception with former prime minister David CameronDowning Street

Thabet was paraded naked through the streets by a mob in Menia, Egypt and a number of Christian homes looted and destroyed in May. No charges have been brought against perpetrators.

In June, a Christian home in Baidaa village was torched by a mob of 5000 men and women, after unsubstantiated rumours that it would become a church. 

Also in June, Coptic Priest Father Moussa shot and murdered in Al Arish, Sinai.

This month alone, a 33-year-old Coptic pharmacist, Maged Attia, was stabbed and beheaded in Tanta. 

Five private Christian homes torched in Abu Yacoub, Minya, after rumours spread that a church was being built.

The Archangel Mikhail Coptic Church was torched in the  village of Naj al-Nassara in Madamoud.

And a 27-year-old Coptic Christian man was stabbed to death, priests' families attacked and others wounded in the village of Tahna al-Gabal in Minya.

Bishop Angaelos told Christian Today: "There has been a spiral of attacks in the last three months. They are almost weekly now. Egypt is in a very vulnerable position. People are frustrated and vulnerable to radicalisation."

He said the lack of effective local law enforcement was interprted as a sign that attacks would go unpunished. 

"People will continue to suffer at a greater rate. We have already seen people humiliated, forced out of their villages, churches attacked and sometimes burned."

Christians no longer felt safe in their own communities. 

"They feel vulnerable and targeted. And the worse it gets, the more polarised communities will become."

Egypt is home to 13 million Christians, 15 per cent of the population and and 75 per cent of all Christians in the Middle East. Bishop Angaelos said this was not the worst persecution Christians had faced in the last two millennia, however, and he was confident there was still a good future for the Copts in Egypt. 

In his statement he emphasised that the Egyptian law is not one for Christians, Muslims or any other individual group of people, but it is for all Egyptians.

"So when violated this violation is against all."

And while there are clear efforts at the national level in Egypt to attempt to curb religiously-motivated violence and lawlessness, at the local level there is, at best, carelessness and, at worst, criminal negligence in the reaction and lack of reaction of local security service officials, he added.

He noted that most of Egypt's Muslims were also concerned and rejected the persecution of their Christian neighbours.

He called for a "robust system of law and order that appropriately responds to crime, irrespective of who it is perpetrated by or against. If this does not happen, the concern is that hopes for a more cohesive nation will disappear, and that recent events will give way to a re-emerging religious divide."

He concluded: "The brutal and personal nature of many of the attacks against our brothers and sisters in Egypt warrants our prayers and support for them as they continue to endure heightened levels of persecution while refusing to lose their admirable and resilient spirit, and unyielding ability to forgive according to their Christian devotion and commitment.

"We also pray for Egypt and its leadership, hoping that hearts and minds will be led to greater inclusiveness, justice, equality, and refuge for the oppressed, remembering that our Lord Himself once took refuge from persecution within its gracious and welcoming borders."