< 52 Churches attacked, Bible Society Shops burning
< Christians, journalists among 525 killed
< President Obama cancels military exercise to protest crackdown
By BosNewsLife Middle East Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
CAIRO/WASHINGTON (BosNewsLife)– Two Christians were killed while scores of churches and two Bible Society shops were reportedly destroyed in revenge attacks by Islamic mobs in Egypt, after security services massacred supporters of ex-President Mohamed Morsi.
The crackdown by the military-led government on protesters and related violence that killed as many as 525 people according to officials prompted U.S. President Barack Obama to cancel a major joint military exercise.
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” Obama explained Thursday, August 15, in a brief statement from his Martha’s Vineyard vacation spot.
“As a result, this morning, we notified the Egyptian government that we are canceling our biannual joint military exercise, which was scheduled for next month,” he added, while warning that the U.S. response may not stop there.
“Going forward, I’ve asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps that we may take as necessary with respect to the U.S.-Egyptian relationship,” Obama said.
His words did little to ease violence against Christians, seen by Islamists as supporting the current government and the ouster of Morsi last month. Soon after Morsi supporters were cleared from two protest camps in the capital Cairo on Wednesday, August 14, as many as 52 church buildings were attacked across the country in violence that also killed several believers, according to Coptic church media and activists.
At least two Christians were killed and identified as Iskander Rizk Allah from Delga in Minya Governorate, in his 60s, and Rami Zakria of Alexandria, though more details about him were not immediately available. The circumstances of Rizk Allah’s murder also remained unclear, but rights workers said Zakria was shot.
At least three journalists trying to cover the violence were also among the dead – Mick Deane, 61, a cameraman for British broadcaster Sky News, and Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz, 26, a reporter for the Gulf News, a state-backed newspaper in the United Arab Emirates, the news organizations reported. Both had been reported to be shot in Cairo while covering the break-up of camps by security forces.
Egyptian journalist Ahmed Abdel Gawad, who wrote for the state-run newspaper Al Akhbar, was killed while reporting on the crackdown at Rabaah al-Adawiya, though more details were not available at the time.
Seperately a pastor and his wife were reportedly kidnapped from their Seventh-day Adventist church in Assuit, though there was no immediate independent confirmation
And in a statement seen by BosNewsLife, the Egyptian Bible Society said it had suffered the worst violence in its 129 history in the country. The Bible Society, Egypt’s main Bible publisher, said two of its shops were attacked and set on fire.
“No workers have been injured, but the two shops in Assiut and Minia, the largest cities in Southern Egypt, have been completely destroyed,” a statement said.
Egyptian Bible Society General Director Ramez Atallah called the violence “an attack against the state by a violent minority” which he called “an attempt to destabilize the nation.”
Atallah explained that “attackers demolished the metal doors protecting the bookshops, broke the store windows behind them and set the bookshops on fire.”
He said “Fortunately we were closed…fearing such an attack, so none of our staff were injured.” However he cautioned that “similar incidents are taking place “across” the nation.
“They did the same to many stores on those streets as well as demolishing many parked cars.”
The Egyptian Bible Society said it had joined Christians urging prayers for a wounded nation so “that the government may manage to disperse the remaining sit-in with as few injuries and loss of life as possible.”
The group also asked its supporters to pray that “these sad incidents would not increase the alienation of the Muslim Brotherhood, but that they would somehow be re-integrated into Egyptian society.”
It also asked prayers “For protection for all Christian properties across the nation” and “for Christians to have a spirit of forgiveness and love towards those who are perceived as being our enemies.”
The call came as Christians across the country were without places of worship including in Sohag, south of Cairo. In the village of Dalga, three churches and six buildings within the grounds of the 5th-century Monastery of the Holy Virgin and Anba Abra’am, housing a clinic, a retreat center, a pre-school nursery, and the bishop’s residence, were set on fire, Coptic Christians said.
In the Minya region, south of Cairo, police stations in Matai and Beni-Mazar were targeted, reported Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), one of several Christian advocacy groups investigating the situation.
The church of Mar-Mina in the Abu-Hilal district and a clinic operated by the church were set alight, as were two churches in the Fayoum villages of Nazla and Youssef al-Seddiq and the Society of the Holy Bible in the town of Fayoum, some 100 kilometers (62.5 miles) southwest of Cairo.
In the town of Suez, 100 (62.5 miles) east of Cairo, the church and the school of the Good Shepherd were set on fire by the Islamists, who also blocked the road to prevent fire trucks from reaching the area, according to several Christian sources.
The St Saviour’s Anglican Church in Suez was reportedly also attacked by supporters of former president Morsi, who were seen throwing Molotov cocktails and stones at the church while also destroying the car of the priest in charge of St Saviour’s, Ehab Ayoub.
Political polarization has increased since the removal of former President Morsi in what was described as a “people’s coup” facilitated by the army, CSW commented.
His ousting followed protests which saw as many as 17 million people taken to the streets and a further 22 million signing a petition demanding his resignation.
“There has been a steady increase in attacks on the Christian community following accusations by several Islamist sources,including the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood and the leader of the al-Qaida terror group, that Christians were part of a “conspiracy” to remove the Morsi regime,” CSW added.
CSW spokesman Daniel Sinclaire said that while the removals of Morsi supporters “may have been necessary” the manner “in which they were executed and the excessive loss of lives will only serve to polarize Egyptian society even further.”
He said CSW is also “deeply concerned at the unwarranted and continuing targeting of the Coptic community.”
“We urge the government to ensure comprehensive security to all Egyptians, regardless of their religion,” the spokesman added.
The interim government declared a monthlong state of emergency, ordering the army to support police in restoring law and order and protect state facilities. A nighttime curfew for Cairo and some 10 provinces also was put into effect.
Copts, as most Christians are known in Egypt, comprise roughly 10 percent of the country’s 83 million population.
(BosNewsLife, the first truly independent news agency covering persecuted Christians, is ‘Breaking the News for Compassionate Professionals’ since 2004).
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