CAIRO – Attacking churches across Egypt, pockets of supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi continue to retaliate against a deadly crackdown by government security forces.
Pro-Morsi demonstrators were angered by the Aug. 14 crackdown on protesters in Cairo. Widespread protests and violence continue throughout the country, with nearly 700 people reported dead and more than 3,700 injured.
The Muslim Brotherhood previously had warned that if government forces attacked its protesters, they would retaliate by attacking the country’s minority Christian population.
So far, nearly 70 churches, Christian institutions and businesses have been attacked, burned or destroyed.
The attacks appeared to be planned, since they occurred nearly simultaneously across the country, Christianity Today reported, quoting one church leader in the town of Assuit as saying, “It had to be pre-planned. It happened [here] at the exact time the attacks happened in Cairo.”
Among churches targeted was Beni Mazar Baptist Church in Minya, a city of 250,000 people 150 miles south of Cairo. It was attacked and burned. No casualties or injuries were reported, although the pastor and his family live on the premises.
This screenshot of a video posted on Facebook by the pastor of First Baptist Church, Cairo, shows the smoldering ruins of Beni Mazar Baptist Church in Minya, Egypt. The church was attacked and burned during nationwide violence Aug. 14.
The first news of the attack came Aug. 14 from Mounir Sobhy Yacoub Malaty, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cairo and a leader of Egypt’s Baptist convention. At noon Malaty posted on his personal Facebook page: “Pray: Baptist Church in Beni Mazar, Minya, has been attacked.”
Malaty quickly followed with an update, “Beni Mazar Baptist Church on fire.” Later he posted a brief video showing the ransacked and burning remains of the church.
Months earlier, John Amin*, pastor of the Beni Mazar church, had said, “We live here at the church, so if someone attacks our church, they attack our home. The kids are afraid.”
Many in the community around the church are afraid, Amin said, but he still had a vision to see the church packed with those seeking Christ. “We want the community to see us and come and grow the church,” he said.
A jovial man, sometimes called the Egyptian Santa Claus, Amin has a broad smile that might hide the challenges he now faces, which are severe.
Minya reported the country’s highest number of attacks against churches, totaling 14. One of Egypt’s oldest Coptic Christian churches, the fourth-century Church of the Virgin Mary there, was torched and burned Aug. 14.
In addition, the Egypt Bible Society bookstore in Minya was destroyed.
Overall, violence in Minya left 41 people dead, including six policemen.
On Aug. 15, a government spokesman described attacks on Christians as a “red line” and pledged that authorities would “respond forcefully” to any new attacks.
Egypt’s defense minister, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, pledged that the army would pay to rebuild the churches that were attacked and destroyed during the protests.
Egypt’s violence began earlier in the week when government troops moved to clear thousands of Morsi supporters who were occupying two sit-in camps in Cairo. Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, was removed from power July 3 after serving only one year in office.
Clashes later spread throughout Cairo, then across the country. The government has declared a month-long state of emergency, imposing a nighttime curfew in nearly half the country’s provinces.
Police have been authorized to use live ammunition in self-defense, sparking fears of renewed bloodshed, according to the BBC.
Security in the capital is tight, with many armored personnel carriers in evidence. In spite of roadblocks throughout the city, thousands of demonstrators still take to the streets. Tension is high as weapons including clubs, machetes and guns are openly being used by all sides.
“Fear is a part of life in Egypt,” said a Christian worker who serves in the region. He encourages believers in Egypt not to give in to fear. “The enemy is strong here. He makes people afraid.”
Spiritual oppression is real, the worker said, stressing that boldness to share the gospel, especially in difficult times, must come from the Holy Spirit.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Charles Braddix is a writer for the IMB based in Europe.)