Egypt: Destroying Churches, One at a Time

What clearer sign that Egypt is turning rabidly Islamist than the fact that hardly a few weeks go by without a church being destroyed, or without protesting Christians being attacked and slaughtered by the military?

The latest chaos in Egypt—where the military opened fire on unarmed Christians and repeatedly ran armored vehicles over them, killing dozens—originates in Edfu, a onetime tourist destination renowned for its pharaonic antiquities, but now known as the latest region to see a church destroyed by a Muslim mob.

This church attack is itself eye-opening as to the situation in Egypt. To sum, St. George Coptic church, built nearly a century ago, was so dilapidated that the local council and governor of Aswan approved renovating it, and signed off on the design.

It was not long before local Muslims began complaining, making various demands, including that the church be devoid of crosses and bells—even though the permit approved them—citing that “the Cross irritates Muslims and their children.”

Coptic leaders had no choice but to acquiesce, “pointing to the fact that the church was rebuilt legally, and any concessions on the part of the church was done for the love for the country, which is passing through a difficult phase.”

Acquiescence breeds more demands: Muslim leaders next insisted that the very dome of the church be removed—so that the building might not even resemble a church—and that it be referred to as a “hospitality home.” Arguing that removal of the dome would likely collapse the church, the bishop refused.

The foreboding cries of “Allahu Akbar!” began: Muslims threatened to raze the church and build a mosque in its place; Copts were “forbidden to leave their homes or buy food until they remove the dome of St. George’s Church”; many starved for weeks.

Then, after Friday prayers on Sept. 30, some three thousand Muslims rampaged the church, torched it, and demolished the dome; flames from the wreckage burned nearby Coptic homes, which were further ransacked by rioting Muslims.

This account of anti-church sentiment in Egypt offers several conclusions:

First, the obvious: animosity for churches, demands that they be left to crumble, demands to remove crosses and stifle bells, are an integral part of Islamic history and dogma. That church attacks in Egypt always occur on Friday, Islam’s “holy day,” and are always accompanied by religious cries of “Allahu Akbar!” should be evidence enough of the Islamist context of these attacks.

Because there was a lull in this animosity from the colonial era to just a few decades ago, most Westerners, deeming events closer to their time and space more representative of reality, incorrectly assume that church toleration is the rule, not the exception in Islamic history, which has more frequently been draconian to churches, and is back: “the Muslim Brotherhood announced immediately after the revolution that it is impossible to build any new church in Egypt, and churches which are demolished should never be rebuilt, as well as no crosses over churches or bells to be rung.”

This is also why Muslim authorities are complacent, if not complicit. According to witnesses, security forces, which were present during the Edfu attack, “stood there watching.” Worse, Edfu’s Intelligence Unit chief was seen directing the mob destroying the church.

As for the governor of Aswan, he appeared on State TV and “denied any church being torched,” calling it a “guest home” (a common tactic to excuse the destruction of churches). He even justified the incident by arguing that the church contractor made the building three meters higher than he permitted: “Copts made a mistake and had to be punished, and Muslims did nothing but set things right, end of story.”

Equally telling is that perpetrators of church attacks are seldom if ever punished. Even if sometimes the most rabid church-destroying Muslims get “detained,” it is usually for show, as they are released in days, hailed back home as heroes (this, too, goes back to Muslim dogma, which naturally sides with Muslims over infidels).

This year alone has seen the New Year church attack, which left 23 dead; the destruction of the ancient church of Sool, where Muslims “played soccer” with its sacred relics; the Imbaba attacks, where several churches were set aflame; and now Edfu, wherein, as usual “none of the attackers were arrested.”

Indeed, three days after Edfu, Muslims attacked yet another church.

Aware that they are untouchable, at least when it comes to making infidel Christians miserable, anti-Christian Muslims have a simple strategy: destroy churches, even if one at a time, safe in the knowledge that, not only will they not be prosecuted, but Egypt’s military and security apparatus will punish the infidel victims should they dare to protest.

Raymond Ibrahim, a widely published Islam-specialist, is a Shillman Fellow at the David Horowitz Freedom Center and an Associate Fellow at the Middle East Forum.

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