In recent weeks, hardline Islamic extremists have carried out a spate of attacks against four churches in Egypt, persecution watchdog International Christian Concern (ICC) has reported. All four churches were in the midst of seeking official recognition from the state to carry out worship services. Following protestors’ demands, Egyptian authorities closed down the churches and denied Christians the right to carry out public worship services. On 7 January, which is Egypt’s Orthodox Christmas, more than 1,000 of furious extremists gathered outside Mar Girgis Church in the village of Manshiyet Zafarana.
According to the Archbishopric of the church, police promised demonstrators they will close down the church and stop Christians from worshipping.
A statement issued by Archbishopric of al-Minya and Abu Qirqas reads: “More than 1,000 militants demonstrated against the church, chanting offensive and inflammatory statements in the presence of security forces.
“[They] asked them to calm down and promised them that they would do whatever they wanted to remove the people (Christians) from the place and close it.”
Police officers arrested the church’s priests, transporting them in a car used to carry animals and garbage.
Christians in Egypt have faced increased levels of violence in recent months, with a rising spate of attacks against the religious group.
Other similar protests were reported in the village of Abo Karkas on January 11 with protests at the village of Kafr el-Mansoura on 27 December and the village of Kom Al-Raheb on 9 December.
So far, Egyptian authorities have closed down four churches in the past month, but police have yet to arrest the attackers.
Andro, a Christian lawyer, told ICC: “The police behaved by an offensive way. They behaved with the priests as they would with killers. How dare the police cuff the priests! It is a shame on the Copts there.”
Father Sami, a local priest, also told ICC, “What happened frightened us. I am a priest and it is possible for the police to cuff me if the extremist neighboring Muslims protest or gathered in front of my church. Things are getting worse, but let us pray to make God keep us in peace.”
Claire Evans, ICC’s Regional Manager for the Middle East, said: “It is no coincidence that Egypt’s Christians have been so heavily targeted by extremists within the past four weeks.
“They are often singled out during the celebration of Christian holidays, such as Christmas.
“These incidents also demonstrate how the police often contribute to the problem by adhering to the mob’s demands, even allowing the mob to rage on with no consequences for their violent actions.
“President al-Sisi has taken the symbolic step of opening a new cathedral during this time. He must now take action to protect the rights of Christians to worship in other churches.”