Prominent among the “collateral damage” victims of the ongoing violence in Egypt are the country's Coptic Christians. Living on the tentative goodwill of the Muslim majority even during the best of times, the community has been the subject of attacks and persecution over the past year, since the fall of Hosni Mubarak, and the subsequent fall of Mohammed Morsi.
Now, with the crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood members by the Egyptian army, Islamist fanatics are taking out their frustrations on Coptic Christians. In the past few days, there has been a spate of attacks on Christian businesses, homes, and churches. As of Wednesday morning, according to local witnesses, at least 18 churches had been destroyed, and fires and riots were continuing to spread in Christian areas, the witnesses said.
Much of the information about what is going on in Egypt is coming from social media, where admittedly some of the information could be biased, as anyone can post information that suits their agenda. But if correct, the reports paint a picture of total devastation of the community, with little to no protection provided by authorities to churches.
Using the hashtag #EgyChurch, Egyptian users of Twitter and other social networks broadcast messages like “Can't keep up with the number of churches, Christian businesses, and affiliates being attacked by 'peaceful' Muslim Brotherhood,” “It's clear the Copts are having their churches burnt,” and “This is quickly becoming the worst sectarian catastrophe we've seen in our lifetimes.”
Posters decried the lack of government intervention – with some implying that the army was permitting the rioting in order to settle scores with the Coptic community – as well as the utter lack of coverage of the rioting by the Western media.
Dramatic photos showed churches on fire, with smoke billowing out of buildings and people trying to escape blazes taking refuge on rooftops. In one image, a group of long-cloaked Muslims stand in front of a church, arms linked, in order to prevent Muslim Brotherhood rioters from approaching the building.
The army has not issued a comment on the matter.
U.S. officials have condemned the violence in Egypt, but have not specifically condemned the actions against the churches and the Copts.