Insight: Egypt's political strife puts Christians in peril

Tue Aug 20, 2013 2:24pm EDT
 
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By Alexander Dziadosz

MINYA, Egypt (Reuters) - Last Wednesday, Ayub Youssef was driving to the southern Egyptian town of Delja where he works as a Catholic priest when a friend called and told him to turn back.

By the time he reached the town on Sunday, about 20 houses had been burned. An ancient monastery was smashed and ransacked. One of his parishioners, a 60-year-old barber named Iskander Tous, had been killed in the chaos.

Now, Youssef said, Christians in Delja were living like prisoners in their homes. "No one goes out at all. Not to buy food, not to get medicine, not for anything," he said.

Egypt's Coptic Christians, who make up 10 percent of its 85 million people, have coexisted with the majority Sunni Muslims for centuries. Violence erupted periodically, especially in the impoverished south, but the attacks on churches and Christian properties in the last week are the worst in years.

Some 20 churches have been attacked just in the Minya province where Delja is located, many burned completely. Across the country, mobs have killed several Christians and sacked scores of shops, homes, schools and monasteries.

The immediate trigger was a bloody crackdown in Cairo last Wednesday when police dispersed two Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins set up to demand the reinstatement of President Mohamed Mursi, deposed by the army on July 3 after mass protests against him.

Using snipers and armored vehicles, police killed hundreds of protesters, prompting some hardline Brotherhood supporters to frame the bloodshed as part of a war against Islam abetted by Egypt's Christians. Forty-three police also died in the clashes.

The Brotherhood says it has nothing to do with the attacks on Christians, and accuses the army of cynically using them to justify an ever more brutal crackdown. Brotherhood spokesman Ahmed Aref said in a statement security forces had abandoned the churches to the attacks, which he blamed on "foolish boys."   Continued...

 
Christians attend Sunday service in the Basilica of our Lady of Fatima in Cairo August 18, 2013. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh