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Wednesday
Oct122011

Egypt's Christians, attacked by army, may flee country

CAIRO (BP) — Funeral services were held Oct. 10 in Cairo, Egypt, for some of the victims of a military attack against a group of Christian protestors that left 26 dead and hundreds wounded.

In the wake of what could be the worst act of violence against Egyptian Christians in modern history, leaders of the Coptic Orthodox Church have called for three days of fasting and prayer for divine intervention, along with three days of mourning.

Leaders from other faith traditions among Egyptian Christians reported similar efforts among their congregations.

Samia Sidhom, managing editor for the Coptic weekly Al Watani, said Copts across Egypt are distraught about the attack and the future for Christians across the country.

“At this point you can’t even imagine what the future will be like,” she said.

The attack started late Sunday afternoon (Oct. 9) when Christian — who were protesting church burnings — marched through Cairo and began getting pelted with rocks and other projectiles near an overpass that cuts through downtown Cairo. The protest march had been announced in advance. By the time the protestors were able to make it to a television and radio broadcasting building commonly known as the Maspero Building, the army began shooting into the crowd and ramming riot-control vehicles into the protestors.

Witnesses at the scene reportedly said attacks left body parts scattered at the scene. Amateur video at the scene shows two riot-control vehicles plowing into the crowd of protestors.

Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center on Religious Freedom and a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, called the army’s attack on the Christians a “watershed moment.”

“The real significance of this is that it signals the future treatment of the Christian Coptic community by the state,” Shea told the National Catholic Register. “The military was their last hope in protecting them from lawless forces in society that were religiously motivated to [eradicate] them, namely the Salafis [Muslims]. Now they know they have no protection.

“I think we can expect to see a major exodus of Coptic Christians from Egypt…. The whole reason they were in the streets was to protest lawless forces. It extinguishes all hope for them. They are utterly vulnerable.”

The Obama administration, Shea said, should threaten to cut military aid to Eqypt if the army fails “to protect the Christian minority.”

“It is against our national interest to support a military that allows the eradication of Christians by other groups,” Shea said.

The protest came in response to a Sept. 30 attack in Upper Egypt, where the Mar Gerges Church building was burned down along with several Christian-owned homes and businesses in Elmarenab village in Aswan.

The church building, which was being renovated, was attacked by local Muslims who claimed the congregation had no right to build it, despite legal documents church officials put forth to the contrary.

Before the attack, parishioners of the church took down crosses outside the building. When it was being destroyed, contractors were removing domes that local Muslims held to be offensive.

The Mar Gerges burning was the third church in Egypt in seven months to be burned down by a mob.

Sidhom said Christian protestors were particularly upset about the church attack because the government blamed them for it, claiming the building was a hospitality house with illegal construction taking place.

Written by Compass Direct News, a California-based news service focusing on the persecuted church. Used by permission. With additional information compiled by Michael Foust, associate editor of Baptist Press.

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