CAIRO (BP) -– At least six Egyptian Christians have been murdered in a persecution surge following former president Mohamed Morsi’s removal from office July 3.
Christian persecution has intensified, CBS News reported, because Christians supported the ousting of Morsi, a Muslim Brotherhood leader who was elected to office a year ago.
“People from the Muslim Brotherhood are taking it upon themselves to wage jihad to defend Morsi and their religion,” Safwat Samaan, a director at human rights group Nation Without Limits, told Morning Star News.
Attacks on Christians also are coming from Salifis, a faction of radical Islamists who walked alongside Christians and other protestors in support of Morsi’s ousting, said Nina Shea, director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for Religious Freedom.
“No faction in Egypt had more to lose from the Muslim Brotherhood’s Islamist rule than the 8 million or so Christian Coptic community, the Mideast’s largest non-Muslim minority,” Shea said. “Without American and Western diplomatic support, the Copts’ fate is looking increasingly grim.”
Egypt’s northern Sinai region has been a particular target for increased murders and death threats of Christians, as well as destruction of Christian-owned property, Morning Star News reported.
Kidnappings by Islamic militants have become fairly common in northern Sinai, which is home to about 5,000 Christians. Egyptian Coptic priest Yousef Soubhy told Morning Star News that the kidnapping and murder of a Christian merchant by suspected militants was intended to harass Christians.
The 60-year-old Sinai merchant, Magdy Lamei, was kidnapped July 6 and found beheaded and abandoned in a cemetery July 10, the Associated Press said. A Coptic priest, Mina Aboud Sharubim, also was shot and killed July 6 in a market.
Four other Christians in southern Egypt were murdered July 5, said Samaan, human rights group director. After one of the Christians — Emile Naseem Saroufeem — was accused of killing a Muslim man, an Islamic mob sought revenge by killing Saroufeem and three others who tried to hide him. Saroufeem was considered his village’s most outspoken supporter of Morsi’s demise, AP reported.
“Emile [Saroufeem] was the de facto Tamarod [rebel] leader in the village and that did not escape the notice of the militants,” AP quoted a friend of Saroufeem. “He, like other activists, received threatening text messages for weeks before he was killed.”
Other Egyptian Christians have received death threats, including Coptic priest Soubhy, who said he cannot return home for fear that militants will murder him, Morning Star News reported. Reports also surfaced of churches being looted and burned after Morsi was ousted. In addition, dozens of Coptic homes have been burned and some Christian-owned businesses and vehicles have been bludgeoned with weapons or destroyed.
The Sinai militants began an intimidation campaign against Christians several years ago, setting churches on fire, scrawling graffiti, and warning residents that the area was under Islamic control and Christians were not welcome, according to news reports.
Heightened persecution over the past few weeks has led many Christian families to seek refuge elsewhere.
“A lot of our neighbors had some of their family members that got kidnapped, and others were shot at,” Fadiya Abdel Sayed, who fled from Arish with 13 other families, told Morning Star News. “I left my work and property, and my husband left his trade and everything to come to our hometown until things calm down.”
More than 100 Christian families once resided in the northern Sinai community, but most have left.
Beth Byrd is a staff writer at Baptist Press. Get Baptist Press headlines and breaking news on Twitter (@BaptistPress), Facebook (Facebook.com/BaptistPress) and in your email (baptistpress.com/SubscribeBP.asp).