CAIRO (BP) — Though Islamists have destroyed between 55 and 80 Egyptian churches, reports suggest public support may be turning against the Muslim Brotherhood, the main group responsible for inciting anti-Christian violence.
“The Muslim Brotherhood has lost all sympathy with their points due to their violence,” a Long Island, N.Y., Egyptian American who is in Cairo for a family wedding told Fox News.
Meanwhile media watchdogs have called for western journalists to focus more attention on the plight of Egypt’s Christians. From Aug. 15-21, the three U.S. broadcast networks’ morning and evening news programs devoted less than six minutes to anti-Christian attacks out of the one hour, 54 minutes they spent on Egypt coverage, according to a NewsBusters report.
Since the Egyptian military removed President Mohammed Morsi from power following an outcry against his rule by many Egyptians, enraged supporters of the former president and the Muslim Brotherhood have been locked in a showdown with the military. Amid the furor, Christians are paying a heavy price, with some members of the Muslim Brotherhood placing exclusive blame on them for the military’s violent crackdown. Christians comprise only 10 percent of Egypt’s population and were joined by students, intellectuals, businesspeople, secularists and others in their opposition of Morsi.
The Egyptian military deployed Friday (Aug. 23) in anticipation of a new wave of protests by the Brotherhood and other Morsi supporters a day after deposed president Hosni Mubarak was released from prison and placed under house arrest in a military hospital in Cairo, the Associated Press reported. Nearly 80 Brotherhood members were arrested Aug. 22.
Along with blaming Christians, the Muslim Brotherhood has called for retribution. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, for instance, posted a webpage claiming Egypt’s Coptic Church declared “a war against Islam and Muslims.” The page ended with the threat, “For every action there is a reaction.” A July article on the Muslim Brotherhood website carried the headline “The Military Republic of [Coptic Pope] Tawadros” and charged the Coptic Church with seeking to “humiliate” Muslims and eradicate Islam.
Responding to calls for retribution, groups of men marked Christian-owned businesses with black X’s and mobs later attacked those businesses, Human Rights Watch reported. However, recent reports also noted Muslims and Christians standing together to protect churches and mosques, an indication that the attempt to blame Christians for national unrest may be failing.
“I am Muslim and I am against terrorism and I support the revolution [that ousted Morsi],” an Egyptian woman named Nina told Fox News, “and I support all the decisions of the Egyptian army forces. We love Egypt so much and we hope the foreign countries stop misunderstanding about us and the situation now in Egypt.”
Even at some mosques, sentiment seems to be turning against the Brotherhood, a man in Cairo told Fox News.
“They gather around mosques, from five to 100 of them, to show they are important and the goal is to go out and cut off the roads and rally to get more supporters,” the man said of Islamists. “Sometimes during Friday prayers, the sheikh wants to push people to support the Muslim Brotherhood, but modern Muslims are dominant and not deceived anymore with fake words that defending the Muslim Brotherhood is defending Islam.”
Still, the anti-Christian violence has been brutal. Among the church buildings destroyed are two belonging to Baptist congregations: Minya Baptist Church 150 miles south of Cairo in Minya, a city of 200,000, and Beni Mazar Baptist Church in the province of Minya.
“In reflecting on this tragedy, the Father has convicted me that I hear this kind of news all too casually,” said Hugh Carson, pastor of Renewal Church in Greenville, S.C., who ministered at Beni Mazar Baptist Church in 2011 as part of a partnership between Egyptian Baptists and the South Carolina Baptist Convention. “But this story coming out of Egypt is different because it involves a church that I know — people, names, faces that are real to me.”
In Bani Suef, a city 75 miles south of Cairo, a mob attacked and burned a Franciscan girls school then forced three nuns to parade through the streets as verbal abuse was heaped on them, according to Human Rights Watch. Police deterred the attackers initially but left after a nearby police station came under attack.
In many cases police have been unable to protect Christian-owned buildings due to their inability to deploy at full strength without military assistance, Human Rights Watch reported.
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Egypt posted on its website Aug. 21 a list of destroyed Christian properties: 32 churches that have been “robbed, looted and fully burned”; 19 churches that have been “partially attacked by throwing stones, Molotov Cocktails and gunfire”; five Coptic schools “that have been completely burned”; seven “church establishments that have been burned completely”; and 190 businesses “owned by Copts that have been robbed, looted and then burned completely.”
The Coptic Orthodox Church, headed by Pope Tawadros II, is a denomination that separated from the rest of Christendom in the fifth century when it rejected the Council of Chalcedon’s statement that Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature united in one person. Churches and institutions of other denominations have been targeted as well.
The Coptic Church said in a statement that it “values the stance of the friendly and loyal countries who understand the nature” of the attacks. But the church denounced “the fallacies broadcasted by the western media” and called journalists “to review the facts objectively regarding these bloody radical organizations and their affiliates instead of legitimizing them with global support and political protection while they attempt to spread devastation and destruction in our dear land” — apparently a reference to the underreporting of violence targeting Christians.
As of Aug. 21, ABC and NBC each had aired one report on anti-Christian violence, according to NewsBusters. CBS dedicated only 15 seconds to the subject in a passing reference on “CBS Morning News.”
Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom, wrote in National Review that the violence is “jihad.”
“Led by the Muslim Brotherhood, and joined by various other Islamist groups, some hoisting al-Qaeda flags, a ruthless campaign of religious cleansing, of Islamic ‘purification,’ is well underway in Egypt,” Shea wrote. “As jihad has come to the Arab world’s largest country, our foreign-policy leaders and press ignore this turn of events at our peril.”
Samuel Tadros, an Egyptian scholar who serves as research fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, said he is skeptical that the Muslim Brotherhood will ever change its hostile attitude toward Christians.
“Anti-Christian sentiments are at the heart of the Brotherhood’s worldview,” Tadros told National Review. “When Hassan El Banna established this movement in 1928, fighting foreign missionaries was on the top of his agenda. The Brotherhood continues to use the most hateful language against Copts.”
In a commentary for BreakPoint, evangelical speaker and author John Stonestreet said Egypt has been an important site for Christianity ever since Jesus went there as a child to escape the murderous plot of King Herod, six centuries before the founding of Islam. The Brotherhood wants to eradicate Christians from Egypt, he wrote, adding, “If they succeed it will be in part of because Christians in the West did nothing.”
“Call or email your representative in Congress,” Stonestreet wrote. “Contact your Senators. And the White House. The U.S. must speak out and condemn the targeting and murder of Egyptian Christians.”
David Roach is a writer in Shelbyville, Ky. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress ), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress ) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp ).