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Egypt burns

"Egypt burns" Continued...

Issue: "Back to School," Sept. 7, 2013

By mid-August, Egyptian officials warned Morsi supporters to leave the camps, but some demonstrators insisted they would die before they allowed security forces to expel them. 

Mohamed al-Imbabi, a teacher from the town of Mansoura, told The Financial Times he, his wife, and four children would leave as “corpses or victors.” He added: “I am not afraid for the children. I even wish they would die, then their place would be in paradise.”

It’s unclear how many women and children died when Egyptian security forces raided the Cairo encampments on Aug. 14. Most of the photos from local mosques and hospitals showed the bloodied corpses of young men.

The  tactics of Egyptian forces provoked fierce criticism, even among some who supported dispersing the camps. By the end of the day, over 500 people were dead, including at least 43 police officers, and security forces said they found weapon caches in the camps. Miserable scenes included wounded demonstrators weeping over the lined-up bodies of dead protesters. But as sites around Cairo burned, it was clear that those who protested also led in the destruction. The Obama administration—and many human rights groups—condemned the violence, saying the police used excessive force. But if the police tactics were excessive, the opposition they encountered from Islamists in Cairo and other parts of the country was explosive.

TARGETED: A Christian-owned shop that was looted and burned by an angry mob in Assiut.
Roger Anis/El Shorouk Newspaper/AP
TARGETED: A Christian-owned shop that was looted and burned by an angry mob in Assiut.
TARGETED: The remains of the Evangelical Church of Mallawi after it was looted and set on fire.
David Degner/Getty Images
TARGETED: The remains of the Evangelical Church of Mallawi after it was looted and set on fire.
TARGETED: A Morsi supporter paints graffiti on the wall of a Coptic Church in Assiut.
Associated Press/Photo by Manu Brabo
TARGETED: A Morsi supporter paints graffiti on the wall of a Coptic Church in Assiut.

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Attacks on churches—Coptic, Catholic, and evangelical—began within hours. Many Muslim Brotherhood supporters blamed Christians for Morsi’s ouster, noting the leader of  Egypt’s Coptic church, Pope Tawadros II, stood with Egyptian officials when they announced Morsi’s removal (so too did the powerful head of Cairo’s Al-Azhar mosque, Sheik Ahmed el-Tayeb). 

Robert George of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called the violence against Christian churches and businesses “unprecedented in modern Egypt, both in its scope and the number of churches and structures attacked.” At one of the region’s oldest monasteries, the Virgin Mary Monastery near Assiut, priest Selwanes Lotfy said on Aug. 18, “We did not hold prayers in the monastery on Sunday for the first time in 1,600 years.”

Egyptian Christians reported assailants burned and looted over 50 churches, attacked three Christian schools, and burned a Christian orphanage. Many buildings were empty, and the death toll remained low: Christians reported two deaths from attacks.

Islamists also targeted dozens of police stations and burned at least two government buildings. In Kerdasa—a small town near Cairo—the violence was brutal: A few hours after the raids in Cairo began, a mob stormed the police station, shot 11 policemen in their heads and bodies, looted the building, and torched the structure.

The mob moved to Kerdasa’s only church. The Islamists burned part of the Coptic structure and used a sledgehammer to tear down walls. On another wall, a demonstrator spray-painted: “We will show you rage and we will make you see terrorism.”

Terence Ascott, founder of SAT-7, a Christian broadcasting station in the Middle East, said the encampments and the violence showed pro-Morsi supporters weren’t victims: “These Muslim Brotherhood occupations were dominated by calls for violence against the army, the police, the liberals, and specifically, the Coptic Christians in Egypt.” 

Many Muslims agree. The military’s raids met widespread support in Cairo from Egyptians who said the actions were necessary to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from growing more entrenched. Ascott and other Christians noted many local Muslims tried to protect churches from attacks. Atallah of the Bible Society said he was as concerned for Muslims as Christians, and noted: “Every drop of blood is a sadness.”

Muslim Brotherhood leaders said they condemned the violence against Christians, but called for Morsi supporters to continue protests. Two days after the deadly raids, an imam prayed over a loudspeaker in Cairo: “God, please make Egypt an Islamic state, support freedom on earth, destroy tyrants, and destroy the media that is supported by tyrants.”

Nearly 300 Muslim Brotherhood supporters chanted after leaving the mosque: “Either we die like they did or we get revenge for our martyrs. … It’s going to be Islamic despite the secularists!”

As Egypt prepared for what may become protracted battles, some worried about the potential for regional conflict. Jihadists already have a stronghold in many parts of Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, and have killed more than 25 security forces there in recent weeks. The Sinai’s shared border with Israel has already led to cross-border clashes between Israelis and Egyptian militants. “America cannot determine the future of Egypt. That’s a task for the Egyptian people,” said President Barack Obama. But the standoff approach of the United States—condemning the recent violence but continuing military aid—makes it more likely Egypt will seek alliances in the region. 

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