On May 7, Muslim protestors gathered outside of St. Mina Church to demand the release of two women who had allegedly converted to Islam and were being detained against their will. As the protest ensued, Copts barricaded the church from the inside with pews and other furniture. Reportedly, the Islamists were armed and threw Molotov cocktails at the church.
Unable to push through the barricade, Islamists broke into Virgin Mary Church, a ten minute walk from St. Mina, and lit it on fire. “Islamists killed one guy in the church by slitting his throat. Most of the people killed were inside, and then they torched the church,” an eyewitness told ICC.
A week prior to the attack, 2,000 Islamists protested outside of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Cairo demanding the release of the same two women. At that time, ICC began receiving reports that a larger and more violent demonstration was being plotted. Despite having ample warning, the Egyptian military neglected to increase security at Coptic churches. During the attack on May 7, security forces were unprepared, raising concerns that they may be influenced by or allied with radical Islamists. “Many are voicing sharp criticism of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and its transitional cabinet, accusing them of failing to apply the law so far as radicals are concerned,” the Egyptian newspaper Al Masry Al Youm reported.
Coptic Christians believe that Salafis, also known as Wahhabis, were responsible for the attack. Last weekend, 50,000 Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood members held a joint rally in Giza, chanting slogans of unity and support for an Islamic state. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party is the most organized and financed contender in Egypt’s September elections. Many predict that Islamists will win the majority seat in parliament, including presidential candidate and nationalist Amr Moussa. “Mr. Moussa… described a political landscape in which the Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed under Mr. Mubarak, is dominant. It is inevitable, he said, that parliamentary elections in September will usher in a legislature led by a bloc of Islamists, with the Brotherhood at the forefront,” reported The Wall Street Journal.
“There is no doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis are allied,” said Wagih Yacoub, a Coptic human rights activist. “The Brotherhood plays politics and the Salafis are causing chaos so they can empty Egypt of Christians and make it an Islamic state. Lots of Egyptian people, including moderate Muslims, are worried. If Egypt becomes an Islamic state, it may mean civil war. We won’t get protection from the military council or the police forces. Our homes will be attacked at any minute, any time. Lots of people are scared. How will we protect ourselves? There will be bloodshed.”
Aidan Clay, ICC Regional Manager for the Middle East, said, “While the majority of Egyptian Christians participated in the revolution, they were uncertain what the future held. That uncertainty has turned to fear as Islamic militants have taken advantage of newfound freedoms by imposing a radical agenda and attacking anything they view contrary to their Islamic doctrine. They are becoming bolder because the law is not being applied and criminals are not being brought to justice. While Egypt is experiencing a period of unprecedented transition, success hinges on the full respect for the rule of law. However, the government is not stepping in and mob rule is controlling the streets. We urge the transitional government to reform Egypt’s repressive laws and policies related to religious freedom before the September elections and to enhance security for religious minorities. If immediate action is not taken, a grave future lies ahead for Egypt’s Christians.”