New Attacks on Coptic Christians in Upper Egypt -- But It's Not the Islamic State
On Wednesday, I reported here at PJ Media that Egyptian authorities had stopped an attack on a Coptic monastery near Assuit in Upper Egypt, killing seven members of the terror cell and uncovering a weapons cache in the compound the cell used:
This comes in the wake of the two suicide bombings of churches in Tanta and Alexandria during Palm Sunday services, killing approximately 50 people:
But fresh attacks on Coptic Christians during Holy Week have occurred, with a mob attacking Christians in a village outside Minya, and three bombs discovered inside a Cairo Coptic church on Wednesday:
The bombs were discovered in the Shubra section of Cairo:
While the Palm Sunday suicide bombings were claimed by the Islamic State-Sinai affiliate, the attacks on Christians near Minya on Thursday were by local villagers, upset that Copts were allowed to pray inside the village:
Last August, I reported here at PJ Media on my trip into Upper Egypt, where I visited some of the churches in Minya burned down by the Muslim Brotherhood in August 2013:
Minya, one of the largest cities in Upper Egypt, is the center of the Coptic Christian heartland. More than 10 percent of Egypt's population is Christian, and much of that population resides in Upper Egypt. As I've reported here previously, sectarian clashes are a regular phenomenon around Minya:
It's no surprise that Bishop Makarios, whom I met with during my trip, has cancelled all Holy Week services in the diocese following Sunday's suicide bombings:
This will be only the third time in 1,600 years that Christian worship has been stopped in Minya. The second time was after the August 2013 Muslim Brotherhood attacks:
Bishop Makarios, who has been critical of the Egyptian government's handling of the ongoing attacks on Christians in Upper Egypt, says that the announced three-month state of emergency is most likely not enough to protect the Coptic community:
Meanwhile, tensions remained high in Cairo as Pope Tawadros II led Good Friday services earlier today:
Among the security measures taken by the military and police is the banning of bags and cars near churches:
The Catholic, Anglican, and Protestant churches have already announced the cancellation of the rest of their Holy Week services:
It's important to note that it is not just the Islamic State targeting Christians in Egypt, but an ongoing low-grade sectarianism fueled by conspiracy theories about the Coptic Church's role in Egyptian politics and society:
The Muslim Brotherhood has been one of the main culprits fueling anti-Christian hatred and conspiracy theories related to the attacks on Christians:
Washington Institute for Near East Policy expert Eric Trager notes the Muslim Brotherhood leader here fueling conspiracy theories, Gamal Heshmat, was received by the State Department in January 2015:
This occurred just days before the Muslim Brotherhood, on its official website, openly called for jihad against the Egyptian government:
I've noted previously that Heshmat gets around:
This incitement against Christians in Egypt prompts small-scale communal attacks on a regular basis, such as the attacks on Coptic homes and businesses last May, culminating in a 70-year old Coptic woman being stripped naked by a mob and being paraded through the streets of a village near Minya:
That attack was prompted by accusations that the old woman's son had an affair with a Muslim woman:
President Sisi visited the victimized woman -- aired on state TV -- and the off-again, on-again trial of the culprits is still ongoing.
Coptic Christian women are particularly vulnerable. One longstanding issue is the abduction and forced conversion, then marriage of Coptic girls to Muslim men.
One recent case of an abduction of a Coptic girl received attention when police arrested the abducted girl's family after riots ensued:
In one case in 2014, the wife of a Coptic priest was abducted and later escaped. She gave interviews to the media about her ordeal:
In June 2014, I arranged for Father Anthony Hanna of Concord, California (who escorted me through Upper Egypt) to meet with a number of members of Congress about the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt. One of those meetings resulted in a dossier of several hundred abduction cases compiled by the Coptic Church being provided to the staff of Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), one of the most outspoken congressional advocates for religious minorities in the Middle East.
We will continue our coverage of any additional Holy Week attacks in Egypt, but this shows that the deep-seated issues facing the Coptic Christian community, particularly in Upper Egypt, will remain even if the Islamic State is defeated in Egypt.