Continental news

Christian vulnerability grows in Egypt

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The rigours of Ramadan observance ensure that as Ramadan progresses frustration accumulates. This, merged with religious zeal, produces an incendiary mix. On Wednesday 25 July a dispute erupted in the village of Dahshur on the southern outskirts of Cairo, after a Coptic launderer inadvertently singed the shirt of his Muslim client. The Muslim agreed to return in the evening to settle the claim but returned in the afternoon with a vengeful mob. With a large crowd of armed Muslims besieging his home and laundrette, the Copt threw a Molotov cocktail from the roof. It hit and severely burnt a Muslim youth passing by. When he died in hospital on 1 August, Muslim Brotherhood clerics, instead of rising up as peacemakers, incited Islamic hysteria and vowed collective punishment. The ensuing Islamic pogrom left 16 Copts injured, numerous Coptic homes and businesses torched and the only church in the village vandalised. This violence included threats to shoot all Christians dead and convinced some 120 Christian families they had no choice but to flee. Only one elderly Christian woman remained, receiving sanctuary in the home of a Muslim neighbour.

Whilst a wide range of independent sources — local and international, religious and secular — corroborate this version of events, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) press release presents a different picture. It denies the pogrom was sectarian, claiming ‘the Christian [deliberately] poured acid and gasoline over the Muslim’ to kill him and falsely boasts that the MB immediately intervened to ‘contain people’s anger’. Egypt’s Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said the Copts’ exodus from Dahshur should not be considered a ‘displacement’ as the Copts left their homes willingly! The Shoura Chamber (Parliamentary Advisory Council) is forming a committee to go to Dahshur ‘to reconcile the citizens’. But the senior vice president of the National Council for Human Rights, Mohammed Fayek, notes: ‘One reason [for] the sectarian tension in Egypt is impunity. The continuation of treating . . . sectarian incidents . . . through what is known to the media as “reconciliation sessions” enables criminals to get away with it and [contributes to] the recurrence of such incidents.’ At this point, three Copts and no Muslims have been arrested.

On Sunday evening 5 August some 35 Islamic jihadists raided an Egyptian military base in north Sinai, killing 16 Egyptian soldiers and stealing two armoured vehicles. One vehicle exploded as it crashed into the border fence while the second vehicle, laden with suicide-vest-wearing jihadists, penetrated into Israel. There it was eventually neutralised by an Israeli Armed Forces air-strike close to the Kerem Shalom border crossing. (Movements through the Rafa Crossing are monitored at Kerem Shalom which is close to where the Gaza, Israel and Egypt borders meet.) President Morsi, who has spent months building bridges with Hamas, had little choice but to close the Rafa Crossing into Gaza. Ridiculously, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists have accused Israel of staging the attack to force the closure. Anti-Semitism, on the rise in Egypt, goes into overdrive on Egyptian TV during Ramadan. But as anti-Semitism grows increasingly fashionable and is associated with Egyptian nationalism, it will become increasingly difficult politically to counter terrorism.

President Morsi is appealing for tolerance, demanding justice and promising to improve security. He has labelled the jihadists ‘infidels’ and appealed to Copts to return to their homes. In a state of chronic decline, Egypt is surviving on aid. It cannot afford to offend donors lest it runs out of money, fuel and bread and erupts in massive internal unrest. As it is, sectarian clashes are escalating, Christians are emigrating, tourism is plummeting, violence (especially against women) is pervasive and the Sinai is slipping out of control. The MB and Salafis will react strongly against the closure of the Rafa Crossing and any attempt to prosecute Muslims for ‘punishing’ Christians. As poverty and insecurity escalate, the plight of Christians can only deteriorate.


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