Three years ago today, Muslim Brotherhood supporters began a systematic campaign targeting Egypt’s Christian community. They destroyed dozens of churches, monasteries, Christian businesses, and homes across Egypt.
Attacks on this scale had not occurred here for several centuries.
Even today, many of the churches and monasteries that were looted and torched during August 2013 remain in disrepair. Attacks on Christians continue in certain areas of Egypt.
Several months after the Muslim Brotherhood carved this path of destruction through the Egyptian Christian community, I had the opportunity to visit some of these sites and to meet with Coptic church leaders to discuss the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in these attacks.
The Coptic Christian community in Egypt is significant not only because it is one of the oldest and largest Christian communities in the Middle East, but because the Coptic Christians make up more than half of the Christians still remaining in the Middle East.
Escorted by Father Anthony Hanna of St. Mary and St. Mina Coptic Church in Concord, California, in April 2014 we traveled deep into Upper Egypt, where many of the attacks by the Muslim Brotherhood occurred.
The first indications of how tense the situation remained even months after the attacks were the levels of security we had to pass through to attend the Easter service at St. Mark’s Coptic Cathedral.
Our driver was not even allowed close to the cathedral entrance, so we were dropped off about a quarter mile away. As we passed through the gates, we were checked for our passports and the passes to attend the service. This would be the first of seven ID checks we had to go through to enter the cathedral on the holiest holiday for Christians around the world.
There was good reason for concern about security. A year earlier, the cathedral had been attacked during a funeral by Muslim mobs without any intervention by police under the government of then-President Mohamed Morsi, a top Muslim Brotherhood leader.
Several days later we had lunch with Father Hanna, where he introduced us to a young Coptic man, “George,” who had been been kidnapped for eight days in January 2013. The son of a prominent Coptic businessman, he was held until his family paid a $100,000 ransom.
“George” described his captivity at the hands of his Islamist captors. Initially he was beaten, and subjected to anti-Christian taunts throughout his captivity. When his captors had obtained the ransom, but before he was released, “George” was blindfolded and a gun held to his head. He was told that if he didn’t renounce his Christian faith and accept Islam, he would be killed. Unable to get him to renounce his faith and with their ransom secured, “George” was released.
Sadly, the kidnapping of Christians in Egypt is still a regular occurrence.
Later that evening, Father Hanna, my Unconstrained Analytics colleague Stephen Coughlin, and I received a personal audience with Pope Tawadros II at his office and residence in the St. Mark’s Cathedral compound. Again, we had to pass through layers of security, including armored vehicles stationed at the cathedral gates.
During our audience, Pope Tawadros detailed the ongoing fallout of the Muslim Brotherhood attacks in August 2013, and his reasons for backing Morsi’s ouster following the massive June 30 protests.
Two of the things he specifically cited: the April 2013 attacks on the cathedral, which he noted was without precedent in Coptic history and which a Morsi aide had blamed Christians for; and the torture of Christian protesters in March 2013 by Muslim Brotherhood cadres at a mosque following protests against the Muslim Brotherhood government of Mohamed Morsi.
Pope Tawadros had been praised for speaking out during the Muslim Brotherhood’s August 2013 “Reign of Terror” for discouraging attempts to save the churches and the monasteries. “We could replace the buildings, we couldn’t replace the people,” he told us.
Several days later, Father Hanna and I set out for Upper Egypt with arrangements made by Pope Tawadros’ staff. Here is a video of Father Hanna discussing our trip into Upper Egypt with CBN News.
Murder in Minya
Our first stop in Upper Egypt was in Minya, one of the largest cities in Upper Egypt, about 140 miles south of Cairo. A majority of Egypt’s Christian community lives in Upper Egypt, and considerable destruction occurred in the Minya region.
We initially met with Bishop Makarios, who had survived an assassination attempt just months before. Bishop Makarios noted that Christian homes and businesses in Minya had been marked with an “X” by Muslim Brotherhood supporters in the days prior to the attacks, much as ISIS did with Christian homes in Mosul, Iraq two years later.
During their “Reign of Terror,” the Muslim Brotherhood had openly encouraged the attacks. This justification for retaliation was posted on the Facebook page of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party in Helwan:
One of the first places we visited was a shipyard on the Nile, where the burned-out remnants of the Coptic-owned Mermaid restaurant ship was moored.
When the mobs arrived at the shipyard, which was owned by a local Coptic businessman, the boats with Coptic owners were targeted, the Muslim manager of the shipyard told us. One of those was the Mermaid, where two watchmen, one Muslim and one Christian, took refuge in the ship’s bathroom.
The ship was set afire, and the two men were found dead embracing each other still inside the bathroom.
In the photo below, the shipyard manager points out the direction that the mob came from with the remains of the Mermaid in the background.
Our next stop was a Roman Catholic girls school that had been torched. It was in the process of being rebuilt with funds provided by the Vatican.
Not far from there, a Coptic-run orphanage had also been set ablaze. Fortunately, all of the orphans and staff were able to escape the building when the mob attacked. The stone wall around the orphanage had just been completed since looters had stolen the previous iron fence.
One of the Minya churches that had been burned beyond repair was the Amir Tadros church.
And here is video of the Amir Tadros church being set ablaze.
We were then driven to another church in Minya that had been subjected to the Muslim Brotherhood’s arson campaign. The Abba Moussa church is tucked deep into one of Minya’s neighborhoods, just around the corner from what was then a Muslim Brotherhood mosque.
According to one of the church’s priests who spoke to us, on August 14 the mosque’s loudspeakers began to wail: “GO ON JIHAD!!! GO ON JIHAD!!!”
Within minutes, a mob was headed towards the church.
The priest described the systematic waves which hit the church: the first wave would loot the church of any valuables; the second wave would then strip the church of its furnishings, e.g. marble, etc.; the last wave then set fire to the church. The destruction was total.
The priest barely escaped out a back entrance when the last wave arrived to set fire to the church. He believed the attack had been planned well in advance.
We were then driven by an ancient Coptic monastery that had been taken over and converted into a mosque years before. During the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Reign of Terror,” they had directed supporters to take over an evangelical church in the city. They converted the church into a mosque and held prayers there.
Father Hanna and I spent the evening in Minya unaware of the series of events the following day as we traveled deeper into Upper Egypt.
Destruction in Delga
The following morning, Father Hanna and I set off with our driver with our planned destination of Sohag, about 250 miles south of Cairo.
Our first stop would be in Delga, a city of 120,000 with a Christian population of 20,000. It was one of the hardest hit cities during the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Reign of Terror.”
But even before we left Minya we encountered an issue. The local authorities were not going to let us leave the area and head further south without a military escort. After some negotiations and waiting, we eventually left town with a five-vehicle military convoy and about two dozen armed soldiers.
As we drove into Delga, we picked up an armored vehicle with a manned .50 caliber machine gun to lead us into the city.
Following the August 2013 “Reign of Terror,” the Muslim Brotherhood still controlled the city until the military took it back several weeks later. Prior to that time they had set up roadblocks and imposed jizya on the non-Muslim inhabitants of the city. On July 3 — the day that Morsi was deposed — a mob in the city had set fire to the Roman Catholic church. Six weeks later, the Christians of Delga would face even greater horrors, and for the first time in 1,600 years, Christian prayers and services inside the monastery came to a halt.
Winding through the alleys of the city, we eventually arrived at the St. Mary and Anba Abraam monastery.
The monastery featured three churches, including one dating from the 4th century and another from the 7th century. All three were vandalized over several days, and later set afire by the local Muslim Brotherhood mobs.
The first church was the most recent, about 150 years old, Anba Abraam, named after a prominent Coptic saint known for his devotion and miracles who was born in Delga.
In the altar area of the sanctuary, a mosaic of Christ with the Patriarchs had been used for target practice by the Muslim Brotherhood looters, with the shot marks plainly visible.
The cross on top of the belltower directly beside the Anba Abraam church had also been used for target practice, as well as a graffiti bulletin board for the attackers. Phrases, such as “no place among us for infidels (Christians),” had been painted on the tower.
One piece of graffiti on the belltower caught my attention: the Muslim Brotherhood’s own calling card, “al-Ikhwan” (the Brotherhood):
Directly behind the belltower was the 7th century church of St. George, an archeological treasure that had not escaped the Brotherhood’s attack on the monastery.
Even more tragic was the assault on the 4th Century Church of St. Mary below. Descending down the stairs to the church the first thing that was seen was that the mob had broken into and had desecrated the ancient tombs of the saints and monks of the monastery.
Inside the St. Mary church, the mob had used pickaxes to cut holes in the ceiling for better lighting to aid their looting. One special target was the area underneath the now missing altar, where the mob believed that the Copts had hidden their gold. Despite days of digging, no gold was ever found.
Speaking with one of the priests of the monastery, Father Arsenious, he described that the attack on the monastery was more than just the loss of the buildings; the monastery was the hub of Christian community in Delga. The monastery provided day care to the local families, job training, and education for the children. And now the mob had destroyed the whole complex down to the toilets.
I specifically asked Father Arsenious how he knew it was the Muslim Brotherhood who was responsible for the attack, and he said that it was the local Muslim Brotherhood leaders who led and directed the mob as they ransacked the monastery. They followed the three-wave pattern of the attacks that had been described to us in Minya.
He then pointed to the steel gate at the entrance of the monastery. He said it was one of the first things to go at the beginning of the attack. And in fact, one Twitter user posted a picture of the missing gate while the monastery was still being ransacked:
— Bassem Khairy Hanna (@HannaBassem) August 16, 2013
But when it was clear that the military was about to retake the town, the Muslim Brotherhood leaders showed up at the monastery with the steel gate in tow. The deal they offered was for the monastery to make a public statement announcing that the Brotherhood had nothing to do with attacking the monastery, and they could keep the steel gate. The head of the monastery refused to absolve the Brotherhood. But rather than drag the steel gate away again, they left it, where it was reinstalled.
Father Arsenious said that the estimates to totally repair the monastery and the churches would be about $1 million — an enormous sum for an impoverished community.
But there was even more added human toll to the attacks. Not only had more than 20 homes been burnt, but one Coptic man, Iskander Toss, had been murdered by the Muslim Brotherhood mob — literally torn to pieces.
A Turn of Events
Leaving Delga, our convoy headed further south to the monastery in Al-Muharraq near Assuit, one of the most ancient Christian sites in the world. While the monastery there had escaped destruction, hundreds of Christians in the area had fled there during the “Reign of Terror.”
Al-Muharraq is known as the “Bethlehem of Egypt,” the site where the Holy Family resided the longest in their sojourn in Egypt. The Virgin Mary Church inside the monastery was reportedly built in the 4th century, incorporating an existing ancient church. One of the monks told us that he believed the remote location of the monastery prevented it from being targeted.
Leaving Al-Muharraq, our intended destination that day was Sohag, home of several famous ancient monasteries, and where the Church of St. George had been targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood mobs.
But we never made it to Sohag. Unbeknownst to us, earlier that day a court in Minya had imposed the death sentence on 683 suspects, and the whole Upper Egypt region was inflamed again.
The military officer in charge of our convoy strongly urged us to return to Cairo immediately, which seemed prudent given the circumstances. Our military escort guided us through the back roads near Assuit to get us to the Western Desert highway, and we were encouraged to make for Cairo with all due haste, which we were able to do without any further incident.
Thus ended our survey of the destruction wrought by the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Reign of Terror.” In July 2014, Father Hanna and I met with a number of congressional leaders in Washington, D.C. to describe what we found on our trip and the necessity to change the U.S. government’s current openness to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Steve Coughlin and I met again with Pope Tawadros last September when we escorted a congressional delegation to Egypt. He told us of the efforts by the Egyptian government to help rebuild the churches — a promise by President Sisi that is being fulfilled.
As of Feb & acc to Maspero Youth Union, military completed restoration of 41/65 damaged churches since Aug 14. #Egypt
— إشهد | Eshhad (@Eshhad_) August 14, 2016
But issues clearly remain. As previously noted, attacks on the Christian community in Egypt are increasing, as the government continues to deal with a widespread terror campaign. Meanwhile, the Parliament has taken up several draft laws to end discrimination against Christians in building churches and removing religion from national identification cards.
As I’ve reported here at PJ Media, the Muslim Brotherhood has escalated their terror tactics in Egypt, most recently with a Muslim Brotherhood IED terror cell in Alexandria that had targeted military and police officials.
Three years on from the Muslim Brotherhood’s “Reign of Terror,” it seems time for Egypt to ensure that all Egyptians enjoy equal protection under the law free from discrimination. And it is overdue for the U.S. government to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as the terrorist group it is and always has been, as witnessed by the events of August 2013.