Coptic Christians are a small minority in Egypt, and have always been vulnerable to the whims of the country’s rulers and the mobs of the “Muslim street”. In recent years the persecution of the Copts has grown more intense, with reports of murder, arson, looting, and forced conversions becoming more common.
Girls as young as fifteen have been abducted, forcibly converted to Islam, and married to Muslim men, with their families being warned in no uncertain terms not to attempt to reclaim their daughters. All of this persecution occurs with at least the tacit — and sometimes active — collusion of the police and local authorities.
In the last two days there has been a wave of violence against Copts in the village of Nagaa Hamadi in Upper Egypt. What’s interesting is that the mayhem was triggered by a rumor that a gang of Coptic men had raped a Muslim woman. This is ludicrous on the face of it — to think that a group of Christians, outnumbered a hundred-to-one by Muslims in the surrounding population, would put their entire community at risk in such a fashion. The rumor is yet another example of projection, in which Muslims generate a collective fantasy attributing to their enemies behavior to which they are all too prone themselves.
And so the dogs of revenge were loosed, and a drive-by shooting killed at least seven people (listed as five in the earliest reports) as worshippers left a church after mass. According to ANSAmed:
Egypt: Deaths and Injuries in Christian-Muslim Clashes
CAIRO, JANUARY 7 — At least five Coptic Christians were killed yesterday evening in a southern Egyptian village in a shootout with Muslims, according to security sources. The attack occurred at midnight in front of a Coptic church in the Nagaa Hamadi village, 400 km south of Cairo, after the mass for the Orthodox Christmas (which falls on January 7). Churchgoers were leaving the church when armed men got out of a car and opened fire on the crowd. At least five were killed and a dozen wounded, including two Muslims passers-by. According to initial reports, the clashes started after rumours went round that a number of Christians had raped a young Muslim woman. Tension and clashes between Christians and Muslims have intensified over the past few years in Egypt. Among the most recent was a tragic case last autumn in Assiut, where a Christian circulated a video in which a young Muslim girl was expressing affection towards her boyfriend in what would be considered an inappropriate manner. Three people lost their lives when about a hundred furious Muslims engaged in stone throwing at Christian houses and shops and set fire to their cars. In another incident, clashes — with the setting fire to about twenty cars and shops — were sparked when a Christian shopkeeper accused a woman of having stolen a mobile phone and hidden it under her niqab (the Muslim veil leaving only eyes uncovered), and then pulled the latter off the woman’s face.
Hundreds of Christians (as many as two thousand, according to TV network al Jazeera) have gathered to demonstrate in Nagaa Hamadi, in Upper Egypt, where last night seven people were killed in an attack. The demonstration took place outside the hospital where the bodies of the victims had been taken. Demonstrators threw stones at police officers who responded using tear gas and fire hydrants. The archbishop of the Nagaa Hamadi church said that the Coptic community accuse the police of not taking seriously the numerous threats of criminals and fundamentalists. Apart from the seven deaths, including one police officer, nine people were injured in the attack carried out by Muslims against Coptic Christians at the end of the Christmas mass celebrated by the Coptic Orthodox community. According to security sources quoted by Egyptian press agency Mena, the attacker (who had two accomplices) targeted two separate groups of Christians gathered to celebrate the holiday and is said to have been identified. The security forces have imposed a curfew in the area to facilitate the hunt for those responsible.
According to Al-Arabiya the attackers were “men believed to be Muslims”. Presumably there might have been renegade Christians — or maybe the Mossad? — who lay in wait to perform the dastardly deed in order to discredit Muslims, as happens so often these days.
What Al-Arabiya considers most significant about the events is that “Christian Copts clash with police”, as their headline reports. Those bloodthirsty Copts couldn’t restrain themselves from attacking the Egyptian forces of law and order!
Clashes erupted on Thursday as thousands of Coptic Christians in a southern Egyptian village gathered to bury six of their number gunned down on Coptic Christmas Eve by men believed to be Muslims, security officials said.
Officials and the local bishop said three men in a car had raked pedestrians with gunfire along a street containing two churches and a shopping precinct late on Wednesday.
Bishop Kirilos said the victims were people who had just emerged from church after attending a Christmas Eve service, and the proximity of the shopping area might have drawn some of them to it.
Six Copts and a Muslim policeman were killed, while at least nine more Copts were wounded, two of them seriously, a security official said.
The wounded were evacuated to hospital in the nearby governorate of Sohag.
An estimated 5,000 Copts attended Thursday’s funeral in Nagaa Hammadi, 40 miles (65 kilometers) from the popular tourist city of Luxor.
Police said a group of protesters stoned cars as the dead were buried, and police responded with tear gas. The demonstrators chanted: “With our spirit and blood, we will sacrifice ourselves for the Cross.”
They said Copts earlier stoned police cars and the hospital where the bodies of the six dead were held before the service, chanting: “No to repression.”
An initial investigation reported that the gunmen opened fire as they sped along the street, killing and wounding people over a distance of 400 meters.
As the car headed out of town the gunmen fired at a convent which also housed the bishop’s offices before fleeing to a rural area near the town in Qena governorate, 700 kilometers (435 miles) south of Cairo.
Copts celebrate Christmas on Jan. 7 along with many other Orthodox communities around the world.
Bishop Kirilos told AFP on Thursday that he saw gunmen spraying worshippers with automatic gunfire outside the archbishopric after the mass ended the previous night.
“We concluded the mass at 11:00 pm (2100 GMT) and I was heading to the bishopric when I saw a man, in a car, open fire with an automatic rifle at Copts who were walking past the building,” Kirilos said in a phone interview.
“The gunman then continued to fire on Copts in the streets of the town,” he said.
Witnesses, cited by local officials, earlier said the main gunman is a Muslim wanted by police and linked the shooting to the abduction of a 12-year-old Muslim girl in November who was allegedly raped by a Coptic youth.
“The first elements of the investigation, based on testimony of people on the ground, indicate that the main shooter is a town resident identified as Mohammed Ahmed Hussein, who is wanted by the police,” one official said.
Kirilos also told AFP that for the past week some of his parishioners had received cell phone hate calls and threats alleging that Muslims “will avenge the rape of the girl during the Christmas celebrations.”
Copts, who represent roughly 10 percent of Egypt’s 80-million-strong population, are the largest Christian community in the Middle East, but they frequently complain of discrimination, harassment and sectarian attacks.
In November, hundreds of Muslim protesters torched Christian-owned shops in the town of Farshut, near Nagaa Hammadi, and attacked a police station where they believed the suspected rapist was being held.
It was latest in a wave of sectarian tension between Muslims and Egypt’s Copts.
“Sectarian tension” is a delicate way of phrasing what is happening — as if there were two groups of believers, equivalent in size and strength, who just happened to clash over some obscure point of doctrine.
But this is simply the latest episode in a 1,400-year campaign of ethnic cleansing by Egyptian Muslims, who long to rid themselves of those troublesome Copts.
This is not an aberration, nor extremism. This is the letter of Islamic law in action. Those Christians can only be suffered to live inside Dar al-Islam as long as they “pay the jizya with willing submission and feel themselves subdued.” (Koran 9:29)
By throwing stones at the police, the Copts of Nagaa Hamadi have demonstrated that they are no longer in a state of “willing submission”. Under Islamic law (Reliance of the Traveller, o11.11), they have violated the terms of the agreement that gives them their dhimmi privileges, and their status thus reverts to that of prisoners of war.
This means that the adult males among the Copts may be slain with impunity, and their women and children may be enslaved (Reliance of the Traveller, o9.14).
None of this is likely to happen under the current Egyptian political system — although it might be different if the Muslim Brotherhood ever succeeds in taking over the reins of power in Cairo.
But the “Muslim street” knows these rules well, and the Copts have broken them. The prospects for the Christian population of Nagaa Hamadi do not look good.
Hat tips: Insubria, TB.