|Destruction of Egypt's Christian community.|
(Images courtesy 8thirty8/Facebook)
Security issues following last week's rioting forced officials to consider the risks of a large gathering of people.
At the same time, a scholar at the Hudson Institute's Center for Religious Freedom was quoted by The Christian Post as saying that last week's attacks on Christian churches and believers in Egypt were the worst in 700 years. Most of the violence seemed to be concentrated in southern Egypt in a 24-hour time frame.
Human Rights Watch, an international human rights group, visited 11 sites in Minya city and Bani Suef, where last week's attacks took place. Their investigation took note of attacks on at least 42 churches (though several ministries working in the region cite as many as 60 churches), as well as those on dozens of Christian institutions, schools, homes, and business owned by Christians. Their conclusion: this was an intimidation campaign thought to be waged by supporters of ousted Islamist President Mohamed Morsi.
In their new report, HRW accused authorities of being "largely absent or failed to intervene" when churches or properties come under attack. While authorities did little to stop the violence, now the military-backed government is trying to capitalize on the church burnings to paint the Brotherhood as terrorists.
The wave of attacks also included drive-by shootings, kidnappings, destruction of church buildings and Christian-owned property, and now lethal shootings. Unidentified vandals marked church buildings and Christian-owned homes and businesses declaring, "Egypt is Muslim, not Christian." During the rampage, many of the same buildings were destroyed.
AMG International has some quiet work in Egypt. President and CEO Tasos Ioannidis says the trouble has been disruptive for AMG ministry partners; they have to keep a low-profile. "The best thing to do is just avoid being identified at this point because a lot of them will be targeted if they are recognized as members of the Christian community."
Just how volatile is it? He says in the report they got this week from their partner, "There was a news story about a taxi driver who was pulled over because he had a cross hanging from the mirror of his car: he was killed, and the taxi was destroyed."
Ioannidis goes on to explain that "the Christians are being blamed for a lot of what is happening right now from the Muslim Brotherhood. They are being targeted, so our co-workers are trying to just avoid situations where they would be in danger. There is a lot of property damage, but property can be rebuilt."
According to The Washington Post, a high-ranking Western official (who spoke on condition of anonymity) doubted the Muslim Brotherhood had orchestrated the assault, blaming vigilantes instead. However, when that came up, Ioannidis disagrees. "From our people on the ground, they are clear that the violence is coming from the Muslim Brotherhood. They see that as being part of their effort to stay in power to control the situation in Egypt."
Still, the Gospel is present throughout Egypt. Even though the voices of some of the churches have been silenced, it's temporary. It's also just one small part of the larger body of Christ. AMG ministry partners haven't given up hope, but they need the protection of an army to keep going forward. Ioannidis sums it up this way: "This is a very dangerous time for them, so they need God's protection. The first thing to do is pray for them daily, and pray that God keeps them safe."
If the paradox of persecution still holds true, as historic as the violence is in Egypt, so will be the new believers on the other side of the turmoil. Will you add your voice to the growing chorus?