WASHINGTON (CNS) — Two Egyptian-born Christian clergy, in separate telephone interviews with Catholic News Service, each blamed both poverty and “ignorance” for the attacks on Christian churches in Egypt.
Through Aug. 20, 38 Christian churches were known to have been destroyed, with attacks on another 23 houses of worship, according to statistics compiled by a Coptic Christian group in Egypt called the Maspero Youth Union.
The attacks led by Islamist extremists stem from the Egyptian’s army deposing of President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood who was elected Egypt’s president last year. There is anger over what extremists perceive as Christian support for his ouster.
Egypt has been torn by violence since Morsi was ousted, with more than 1,000 dead after clashes between protesters and police or members of the army.
“These people are getting money to do that (commit the church violence),” charged Deacon Medhat Hanna of Resurrection Coptic Catholic Church in Brooklyn, N.Y. “They are getting $500 a day to do that. … Money is given to the poor people to vote.” Although some irregularities were cited, Morsi was generally considered to be the first democratically elected president of Egypt.
Deacon Hanna, who said he is on the phone “all the time” with friends and relations in his native Egypt, cited “poverty, ignorance” as what lies behind the church destruction.
“This is not a coup. Is this a coup, or do people reject the old regime?” Deacon Hanna told CNS. “As far as I know, the people got fed up with the old regime and they expressed their concern and their feelings and they demonstrate, a record worldwide for the number of demonstrators. The number is in the books, nobody can deny that.”
Morsi was deposed July 3, barely a year after he was elected. While Egypt has one of the largest populations of Christians in the Middle East, they still make up only about 10 percent to 15 percent of the populace of 82 million people, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.
Most of the country’s Christians are Coptic Orthodox. Egypt has 200,000-300,000 Catholics, most of the of the Eastern Coptic rite.
Father Marcos Daoud, assistant pastor of St. Mary Coptic Orthodox Church in the Chicago suburb of Palatine, Ill., said it was possible the country could tip over into perpetual lawlessness.
“The only way to prevent this from taking over, or not to continue,” he said, is there “should be a long-term (plan) of development. That’s the only way.” Father Daoud said lslamists in Egypt “are able to have, to gain members and followers because of the poverty and the lack of knowledge, the ignorance.”
A native of Alexandria, Egypt, Father Daoud said the situation in his hometown is “not that bad” but is “much worse” in what he called “upper Egypt,” where Cairo, the capital, is located.
Of the Muslim Brotherhood pro-Morsi supporters, he said: “They have weapons, they have followers, they have people who are ready to do anything in the name of God.”
He added, “Our parishioners are very worried about their families and the church. They are very concerned. They don’t have too much to do, but they always talking about calling to Egypt, talking to their families on an hourly basis.”
The Muslim Brotherhood party is trying to destroy Egypt “everywhere from Alexandria to Aswan,” said Moussa Tawadrous, a Coptic Catholic living in Nashville, Tenn.
“I hope our army is strong enough to control” the violence, said Tawadrous, a leader of a group of 45 Coptic Catholic families in Nashville. “But I hope all the nations around the world support the Egyptian army as well. They are trying to save the country.”
He added, “I am surprised how some of the other nations in the West doesn’t understand this.”
Although the Egyptian demonstrations against previous President Hosni Mubarak were a centerpiece of the Arab Spring two years ago, which brought about the election of Morsi, the actions of Morsi and his ministers “were way, way, way worse than the Mubarak regime,” Tawadrous told the Tennessee Register, newspaper of the Diocese of Nashville. After Morsi’s election, he added, Egypt deteriorated, economically and politically.
Most Egyptians want their nation to be a modern country that respects freedom of religion, he said.
Tawadrous echoed comments by Deacon Hanna that the army’s action in July was not a coup.
“It is a situation to do the will of the (the majority) Egyptians … who (objected to what) the Brotherhood were doing in the country and asking Morsi to step out. The army was only supporting the will of the Egyptian people,” he said. “The coup was what the Brotherhood did in one year.”
Tawadrous, who came to the U.S. about five years ago from is from the town of Abu Qurkas, about 150 miles south of Cairo, said he and the other members of the Coptic Catholic community in Nashville have been communicating with friends and family in Egypt.
“It’s not easy,” he said. “We’re trying to communicate with our families every hour. And pray for them for sure and pray for Egypt, our country, to be more safe, to get better.”
Contributing to this story was Andy Telli, managing editor of the Tennessee Register in Nashville.
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