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When Muslims attack Christians in Egypt: Terrorism or political fallout?

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During the days and weeks since Egypt’s military government removed President Mohammad Morsi from power on July 3 and subsequently clamped down on supporters of the ousted Muslim Brotherhood administration on Aug. 14, dozens of Christian churches in Egypt have been burned and desecrated.

“Drenched in sweat and covered in ash, 24-year-old Miriam Nagi has spent the past eight days mopping soot inside St. George’s Church,” Time magazine’s Lauren E. Bohn reported Monday. “… St. George’s Church in Assiut, 320 km south of Cairo, was one of more than 60 churches attacked in a wave of revenge against Christians after the military’s bloody dispersal of two Islamist protest camps in Cairo this month, which killed hundreds of supporters of the ousted President.

“Egypt’s Christians, who make up about 10 percent of the Muslim-majority country, have been caught in the political cross fire and found themselves scapegoats for supporting the military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need published on Monday excerpts from its interview with Sister Expedita Perez, a Spanish Comboni nun serving in Egypt who believes the Muslim Brotherhood is behind ongoing violence.

“We are being accused by the brotherhood of having overthrown President Morsi,” Perez said. “But we are merely a minority of 12 percent, and in the (anti-Morsi) demonstrations there were over 33 million people. … The Christian community is frightened but has finally woken up, has opened its eyes and begun to emerge from the sacristy and be aware of the situation, and now the Christians want to stand their ground and defend themselves from the terrorists.”

Although popular opinion holds that militant Islamists are lashing out against Coptic Christians for supporting Morsi’s removal, the Muslim Brotherhood steadfastly denies any involvement in the anti-Christian hate crimes.

“The military government and some Christian leaders are blaming the assaults on the Muslim Brotherhood and saying the violence supports the new regime’s claim that its crackdown against the group is a battle against ‘terrorism,’ ” the Washington Post editorial board wrote Friday. “It’s not that simple. … There is no evidence that Muslim Brotherhood leaders, most of whom are imprisoned, had any role in organizing last week’s attacks. The group has condemned the violence and suggested that the new government may have encouraged the assaults to justify its repression, especially to Western audiences.

“Little evidence has emerged to back that conspiracy charge. It is clear that police and military authorities across Egypt did little or nothing to stop the attacks on churches and, in most cases, made no attempt to investigate them in the days afterward — even while offering to transport journalists to see some of the torched sanctuaries.”

The Catholic News Service published an article Tuesday that includes a primer on Coptic Christianity: “Many Copts — the name for Egypt's indigenous Christians — trace their religion all the way back to Jesus who, according to the Gospel of St. Matthew, sought refuge in their country from the wrath of Herod the Great 2,000 years ago.

“Coptic tradition holds that Christ stayed in Egypt for three years and that later, around the year 42, St. Mark the Evangelist also came to evangelize in the Egyptian port city of Alexandria, before being martyred there.”

Email: jaskar@desnews.com