Voices from Russia

Sunday, 8 September 2013

Egypt’s Largest Christian Community Threatened as Islamists Take Over Town

00 Dalga EGYPT. looted Coptic Church. 08.09.13

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Editor’s Foreword:

THIS is what the Islamists wish to do in Syria. THIS is why we shouldn’t intervene in their civil war. Don’t we have enough blood on our hands, already?

BMD

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The Coptic Orthodox priest would only talk to his visitor after hiding from the watchful eyes of the bearded Muslim outside, who sported a pistol bulging from under his robe. Therefore, Fr Yoannis moved behind a wall in the charred skeleton of an ancient monastery to describe how Islamists torched it and then looted it when they took over this southern Egyptian town following the ouster of the country’s president. Fr Yoannis told us, “The fire in the monastery burned intermittently for three days. The looting continued for a week. At the end, not a wire or an electric switch was left”. The looters stripped the monastery’s 1,600-year-old underground chapel of ancient icons, and they dug up the grounds as they believed that there was buried treasure. Fr Yoannis said, “Even the remains of ancient and revered saints were disturbed and thrown around”.

A town of some 120,000… including 20,000 ChristiansDalga has been outside government control since hard-line supporters of the Islamist Mohamed Morsi Isa al-Ayyat drove out police and occupied their station on 3 July, the day that the Egyptian military removed the president in a popularly-supported coup. It was part of a wave of attacks in southern Minya Governorate targeting Christians, their homes, and their businesses. Since then, the radicals imposed their grip on Dalga, twice driving off attempts by the army to send in APCs by showering them with gunfire. Their hold points to the power of hard-line Islamists in southern Egypt, even after Morsi’s removal… and their determination to defy the military-backed leadership that’s replaced him. With the army and police already fighting a burgeoning militant insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, there are growing signs that a second insurgency could erupt in the south… particularly in Minya and Asyut Governorates, both Islamist strongholds and both home to Egypt’s two largest Christian communities.

The takeover of Dalga was disastrous for the Christian community in the town, located 270 kilometers (160 miles) south of Cairo in Minya Governorate, on the edge of the Nile Valley near the cliffs that mark the start of the desert. In the initial burst of violence, the insurgents ransacked and set ablaze the town’s only Catholic church, like the Monastery of the Virgin Mary and St Abraam, and they looted the Anglican church. Since then, Fr Yoannis said that some 40 Christian families fled Dalga. According to local Minya activists, Islamists attacked nearly 40 Christian-owned homes and stores. Bandits from the nearby deserts joined the looting and burning. To ensure the spread of fear, the attackers torched houses in all Christian neighbourhoods, not just one or two. Amongst the homes torched was that of Fr Angelos, an 80-year-old Orthodox priest who lives close to the monastery. His Muslim neighbours spared Fr Yoannis’ home from a similar fate. The rebels dragged down and killed a 60-year-old Christian who fired from his roof to ward off a mob. Fr Yoannis said, “Even if we had firearms, we’d be reluctant to use them. We can’t take a life. Firing in the air may be our limit”.

Those who remain pay armed Muslim neighbours to protect them. Fr Yoannis said that his brother paid with a cow and a water buffalo. For weeks, most Christian businesses remain closed. One can see armed men in the streets, and nearly every day Islamists hold rallies at a stage outside the police station, demanding Morsi’s reinstatement. Most Christians remain indoors as much as possible, particularly during the rallies. They say they’re routinely insulted on the streets by Muslims, including children. Christian women stay home at all times, fearing harassment by the Islamists, according to multiple Christians who spoke to the AP. Most requested that we not publish their names for fear of reprisals. Local rights activist Ezzat Ibrahim said, “The Copts in Dalga live in utter humiliation. They live in horror and can’t lead normal lives”.

None of the town’s churches held services for a month, until Wednesday, when Christians held one in one of the monastery’s two churches. About 25 attended, down from the usual 500 or more. Fr Yoannis said of the hard-liners now running Dalga, “They don’t want to see any Christian with any power, no matter how modest. They only want to see us poor without money, without a trade or a business to be proud of”. Like other Christians in town, he said that police and the authorities were helpless to intervene, noting, “Everyone keeps telling me that I should alert the police and the army, as if I hadn’t done that already”. At intervals, the 33-year-old father of three would stop talking, move carefully to the edge of a wall, and stick his head out to check if someone was coming. His big worry was the bearded Muslim at the gate, Saber Sarhan Askar. Dalga’s Christians say that Askar, skinny with hawk-like hazelnut eyes, took part in torching and looting the monastery. Outside the monastery that day, Askar told priests that he was there to protect it. However, the orders he yelled to other priests left no doubt who was in charge. He barked at one priest, “Bring us tea!” soon after, he screamed at another, “I need something cold to drink!”

A day after the Islamists took over, school teacher and part-time entrepreneur Kromer Ishaq fled Dalga. Already, the Islamists accused his father in a family blood feud… a charge that could prompt the killing of Ishaq. Then, on the night of the takeover, someone broke into and looted Ishaq’s gold shop. The son of a wealthy family, Ishaq fled with his extended family all the way to the Nile Delta north of Cairo, where he’s now looking for work. By telephone, Ishaq said, “I used to employ people, and, now, I’m looking for work. I once lived in a house I owned, and, now, I live in a rented apartment. You ask me what life is like? It’s like black tar”.

Dalga is the most radical example of Islamist power in Minya… no other town is under such extreme lockdown. However, in general, the province saw a surge in Islamist violence since the coup against Morsi. In the province, Islamists attacked 35 churches, including 19 completely gutted by fire. They destroyed at least six Christian schools and five orphanages, along with five courthouses, seven police stations, and six city council buildings. In addition, they looted and ransacked a museum in the city of Mallawi. On 11 August, policemen thought to be loyal to Morsi stormed the provincial police headquarters in Minya city. They dragged out the province’s security chief and his top aide from their offices and ordered them both to leave the province. They did.

Minya was the epicentre of Islamic militant insurgency against the rule of autocrat Hosni Mubarak in the 1980s and 90s. It remains a stronghold of Islamism, including the extremist al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya  group. It also has the largest Christian community of Egypt’s 29 provinces, 35 percent of Minya’s 4 million people, compared to around 10 percent nationwide. Over Egypt’s past 2½ years of turmoil, Islamist strength grew. Hundreds of jailed radicals who purportedly forswore violence… though not their hard-line ideology… were freed after Mubarak’s 2011 fall and given the freedom to recruit. The south saw a flood of heavy weapons smuggled across the desert from neighbouring Libya. A top Interior Ministry official in Cairo said the Minya police suffered large-scale infiltration by pro-Morsi Islamists. Today, the Ministry’s investigating the local force. The official spoke to us anonymously, as the probe was still underway. On Wednesday, the Interior Ministry replaced the Minya security chief who fled the province, as well as two top aides, for what it called failure to maintain law and order. In the security vacuum, Christians largely paid the price.

Christian businessman Talaat Bassili recounted how, on 15 August, dozens of men, some armed, stormed his home in Mallawi, not far from Dalga. For three hours, with no police or army in sight, the attackers made off with TV sets, washing machines, mobile phones, jewellery, and cash. The attackers descended on the house from scaffoldings on a mosque next door. In footage from Bassili’s security camera, men in robes and boys in sandals tried to force their way into the house, then, finally, blasted away the lock with Kalashnikov assault rifles. Some loaded their loot into a donkey cart. Later, the footage shows Bassili, his wife Nahed Samaan… in a nightgown and robe… and son Fady leaving to take refuge with a neighbour. A week later, Bassili said that a man called him on his mobile phone to ask whether he wanted to buy some of his stuff back, saying, “I said no”.

6 September 2013

Hamza Hendawi

 Associated Press

As quoted in NBC News

http://worldnews.nbcnews.com/_news/2013/09/06/20354694-egypts-largest-christian-community-threatened-as-islamists-take-over-town?lite

 

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Protesters Clash with Police in Cairo, at Least 16 Injured

00 Riot Police. Cairo EGYPT. Coptic Cathedral. 08.04.13

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On Friday, Al Arabiya reported that at least 16 people were injured after dozens of protesters clashed with police in the Egyptian capital of Cairo near the Heliopolis Palace. Police began dispersing protesters by firing tear-gas after they hurled stones at the cops and had set a police car ablaze. Al Arabiya stated that the protesters consisted of members of the Black Bloc group, which stands against President Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, and young football ultras. Nine months into his presidency, Morsi, Egypt’s first freely-elected civilian president after a revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak two years ago, stands accused of betraying his election campaign promises by tolerating excesses by the Muslim Brotherhood and by failing to become a true leader of all Egyptians of all confessions.

27 April 2013

RIA-Novosti

http://en.rian.ru/world/20130427/180874170/Protesters-Clash-with-Police-in-Cairo-at-Least-16-Injured.html

 

Friday, 9 November 2012

“Egypt’s Constitution Must Be Inclusive”: Patriarch Tawadros

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Yesterday, the new Coptic Orthodox patriarch said that any new Egyptian constitution must be inclusive and that the church would oppose any text that only addressed the Muslim-majority of the nation. Patriarch Tawadros Sulaymān, picked on Sunday in a ceremony steeped in the traditions of a church that predates Islam’s arrival in Egypt, also told Reuters that Christians should be more active in seeking to shape Egyptian politics after last year’s revolt.

The 60-year-old patriarch, the 118th to lead a church that traces its origins back to the early era of Christianity, took up the helm when the rise of Islamism alarms many Christians, who make up about a tenth of the nation’s 83 million people. For decades, Christians felt shoved to the margins of society and politics. Yet, although many joined the uprising to oust Hosni Mubarak, they now worry they’ll be pushed further aside by Islamists, whom the former president repressed.

In an interview at a desert monastery, where a day earlier he learned that his name had been picked out of a glass bowl by a blindfolded boy in an elaborate ceremony at St Mark Cathedral in the Abbassia District of Cairo, Patriarch Tawadros said, “The beauty of Egyptian society is the presence of Muslims beside Christians. Diversity is strong and beautiful”. Three names selected in a vote were put in a bowl to choose the man who’d replace Pope Shenouda Roufail, who led Egypt s Coptic Orthodox Christians for four decades. Bearded, bespectacled, and wearing the long black robes of a priest, the new patriarch said that the constitution being drawn up by a 100-person assembly, dominated by Islamists, but also including Muslim and Christian religious leaders, liberals, and other politicians, should reflect Egypt’ diversity, saying, “If a good constitution is presented in which every person finds himself represented, there’s no doubt Egypt will develop”.

Tawadros trained in Egypt and Britain as a pharmacist before being ordained into the priesthood. Tawadros, speaking quietly and carefully in a room surrounded with pictures of his predecessor, whose death in March left many Christians feeling bereft after his long rule, said, “Then again, if the constitution addresses one part of the community and ignores another, it’d take society backwards”. Adding context to his comments, the patriarch spoke from Anba Beshoy Monastery, one of several in Wadi el-Natrun, northwest of Cairo, which flourished as Christian desert retreats when Muslim conquerors from Arabia expanded their influence across Egypt and North Africa.

No to Politics

When asked what he’d do if the constitution was too heavily loaded with Islamic references, Tawadros said, “We’d object”. He didn’t specify what he’d deem too Islamic, and said that he wouldn’t urge his flock onto the streets in protest, saying, “The Church doesn’t play any political role at all. If religion and politics meet, they ruin each other”. The new constitution drafts have more Islamic content than the Mubarak-era version, but one key article saying, “The principles of Sharia Islamic law” are the main source of legislation, remains unchanged. Hardline Salafi Muslims, a vocal force in Egypt s new politics, demand even stronger language.

Even though the church wouldn’t take political action, Tawadros said that there were kindred voices among more-liberal politicians and moderate Muslims, who also object to what they said are Islamist efforts to dominate the drafting process. Yet, the new church leader said it was time for Christians to play a bigger part in politics independently, to secure their rights, as any citizen should, after years of retreating from the public arena and leaving the Church to act as advocate.

Although Tawadros insisted he was continuing the work of Shenouda, his comments suggested a shift from his predecessor, who was criticised by some Christians for becoming too politicised and aligning himself too closely to Mubarak. Tawadros noted, “There’s development in society; the Church encourages every citizen to achieve their individual rights”, adding that post-revolutionary Egypt offered Christians a chance to express their demands more openly. He said, “I encourage my children to participate in political parties and express their opinions”.

President Mohamed Morsi, propelled to power by the Muslim Brotherhood, vowed to protect the rights of Christians and others. However, this hasn’t dispelled the fears of many Christians, who’ve long complained of discrimination in the workplace and other areas of society. Without referring to individuals, Tawadros said that he welcomed promises by Islamist politicians, but wanted “something on the ground”. He pointed to problems such as the longstanding demand of Christians to make it as easy to build a church, as it is to build a mosque. Nevertheless, he said he was optimistic for the biggest Christian community in the Middle East, saying that adversity wouldn’t deter Christians, observing, “The Christian is like a palm tree… when you throw a stone at it, it drops its dates”.

6 November 2012

Reuters

As quoted in The Malaysian Insider

http://www.themalaysianinsider.com/world/article/new-pope-says-egypts-constitution-must-be-inclusive/

 

Sunday, 4 November 2012

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria Names New Patriarch

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On Sunday, the Coptic Orthodox Patriarchate of Alexandria and all Africa chose Bishop Tawadros Sulaymān as its new Patriarch and First Hierarch, to lead the Middle East’s biggest Christian community after dramatic political changes in Egypt swept Islamists to power. In a sumptuous ritual filled with prayer, chants, and incense at St Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbassia in Cairo, a blindfolded child picked the 60-year-old bishop’s name from a glass bowl in which the names of all three candidates were placed. Tawadros replaces Patriarch ShenoudaRoufail, who led the church for four decades until he died in March at the age of 88. Many look to the new patriarch to ensure that the voice of Christians, who have long complained of discrimination in Egypt, is heard.

4 November 2012

Voice of Russia World Service

http://english.ruvr.ru/2012_11_04/Egypts-Coptic-church-names-new-pope/

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On Sunday, Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church chose a new patriarch, Tawadros Sulaymān, in a sumptuous service and Christians hope he will lead them through an Islamist-dominated landscape and protect what is the Middle East’s biggest Christian community. Christians, who make up about a tenth of Egypt’s 83 million population, worry about political gains made by Islamists since Hosni Mubarak’s ouster last year. They blamed radical Islamists for attacks on churches several times since, but Copts have long complained of discrimination in Muslim-majority Egypt. In a ritual steeped in tradition and filled with prayer, chants, and incense at St Mark Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Abbassia in Cairo, the names of three candidates chosen in an earlier vote were placed in a wax-sealed bowl before a blindfolded boy picked out one name.

Copts, who trace their church’s origins to before the birth of Islam in the 7th century, believe this long-established selection process ensured worldly influences wouldn’t determine the successor to Patriarch Shenouda Roufail, who led the church for four decades until his death in March at the age of 88. The locum tenens, Bishop Bakhomious, who was dressed in gold-embroidered robes, said, “Patriarch Tawadros is the 118th (leader of the church), blessed congratulations to you”. As he held the name aloft, the congregation in the packed cathedral applauded. One of the clergy present said that the formal ceremony to install Bishop Tawadros, 60, as patriarch would take place on 18 November.

Some Christians criticised Patriarch Shenouda for being too close to Mubarak. Church analysts say he was partly prompted to take a strong advocacy role in the Mubarak era because many Christians withdrew from public life, complaining of discrimination, leaving the patriarch their main defender. Youssef Sidhom, editor of the Coptic newspaper Watani, said, “Patriarch Tawadros faces different rules of the political game. Copts are now encouraged, and even encouraged by the Church, to get out and participate in the political arena”.

The new patriarch, bishop of a region in the Nile Delta north of Cairo, was shown on television surrounded by priests and praying at Patriarch Shenouda’s tomb at the Syrian Monastery in Wadi el-Natrun in the Western Desert. In comments broadcast on television, bearded, bespectacled, and in black priestly robes, Tawadros thanked God, praised his predecessor and said, “I carry love to all our brothers in Egypt”. Church experts said that Tawadros trained as a pharmacist before becoming a priest, he possesses strong communication skills, and that he stands for peaceful co-existence in Egyptian society.

Unity

Coptic activist Peter el-Naggar welcomed the choice, adding, “He isn’t the kind of man who’d compromise our rights”. Marina Nabil, 20, said amid the applause after the ceremony that lasted several hours, “I’m so happy. I’ve had dealings with Bishop Tawadros before; he’s a very wise and calm man”. Muslim leaders and politicians offered congratulations and voiced hopes that he’d foster greater national unity. In a ballot last week, the candidates were whittled down to three. Voters included leading Church members, public figures, and a handful of representatives of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church, which has historic links with the Coptic Orthodox Church. The other two candidates for the post were Bishop Rafael, a 54-year-old who qualified as a doctor before entering the priesthood, and Fr Rafael Afamena, a 70-year-old monk who studied law before taking on holy orders.

Echoing worries of many Copts, shopkeeper Michael George said, “Christians fear Islamist rule, especially, because their presence encourages radicals to act freely”. Since Mubarak’s ouster, Christians complained of several attacks on churches by radical Islamists, incidents that sharpened longstanding Christian complaints about being sidelined in the workplace and in law. As an example, they point to rules that make it harder to obtain official permission to build a church than a mosque. Sectarian tensions often flared into violence, particularly in rural areas where rivalries between clans or families sometimes add to friction. Romantic relations between Muslims and Christians are regularly to blame for clashes.

The Muslim Brotherhood, the mainstream Islamist movement from which President Mohamed Morsi Isa El-Ayyat emerged to win power via free elections, swore to guard the rights of Christians. Morsi congratulated Patriarch Tawadros and the head of his Freedom and Justice Party, Mohamed Saad Tawfik El-Katatni, said on his Facebook page, “I’m optimistic about fruitful cooperation with (the patriarch) as spiritual leader of our Coptic brethren”. Christianity spread into Egypt in the early years of the faith, several centuries before Islam emerged from the Arabian Peninsula and then swept across North Africa and beyond. The Coptic Orthodox church is the biggest Christian group in Egypt, although there is also a much smaller Coptic Catholic entity, as well as other small groups affiliated to churches abroad.

4 November 2012

Yasmine Saleh

Shaimaa Fayed

Omar Fahmy

Reuters

http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/11/04/us-egypt-christians-idUSBRE8A306B20121104?feedType=RSS&feedName=worldNews

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