By now you have heard that an estimated 26 Christians were killed in Egypt this past weekend. This is not the first time that Christians have been targeted in violent acts over there. Since the ouster of former President Hosni Mubarak, Cairo and its surrounding cities have become a dangerous place for followers of Jesus Christ.
The Associated Press is reporting that the ruling council and deputy defense minister are attempting to place the blame for the violence on the very people being persecuted:
At a lengthy news conference to present their version of the events, generals from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces showed footage of priests and a Coptic Christian activist they accused of instigating the violence on Sunday night with calls for demonstrations and storming the state television building. They accused protesters of “savage” attacks on the military.
Many of those killed were crushed when armored military vehicles sped through crowds of protesters and ran them over. Other victims had gunshot wounds. The clashes outside the state television building were the worst between the military and protesters in the eight months since Egypt’s uprising and have put the ruling generals on the spot.
In front of more than 50 reporters, Maj. Gen. Adel Emara, a member of the ruling council and deputy defense minister, tried to clear the military of any blame in the killings. He denied troops opened fire at protesters, claiming their weapons did not even have live ammunition. He said it was not in “the dictionary of the armed forces to run over bodies … even when battling our enemy.”
Living in America, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the magnitude of Christian persecution around the world. We may occasionally hear of a story or receive an email of a religiously motivated skirmish, but the incidents appear to be isolated and fleeting. We read of the account, sigh, even briefly pray, and then we quickly move on. After all, it is human nature to react this way. Focus founder Dr. James Dobson used to refer to it as the “Doctrine of Limited Tears,” meaning we only have so much emotion available to expend. The fact is, as he would always note, even that reality doesn’t excuse us from our obligation to earnestly pray and support those in need.
If we truly believe that what Paul wrote is true, that we “are the body of Christ, and each one of [us] is a part of it” (1 Cor. 12:27), then we must not turn away from our brothers and sisters in need, regardless of how stretched and otherwise committed we might be.
Many of you are aware that Focus on the Family has an office in Egypt. Along with other Christians in the country, they are operating at great personal risk. As you’re trying to gather your family this Sunday for church and perhaps struggling with those who might rather not go, keep this in mind: In some places in Egypt, just going to a church can be a matter of risking one’s life, yet many still go.
I thought you might appreciate hearing from my friend and Focus Egypt’s president, Sami Yacoub. Please pray for him and his team, won’t you?
Here now is Sami’s chilling and boldly written letter:
Dear Friends and Ministry Partners around the world,
The devastating massacre that took place last Sunday in downtown Cairo led many of you to graciously contact us inquiring about our safety. This is why I’m writing to brief you about what happened and to ask that you join us in praying for Egypt.
Since the Egyptian Revolution in January, several riots prompted by Muslim crowds broke out against churches in Cairo and other small cities in Egypt, breaking down churches, burning others, and resulting in significant numbers of casualties and deaths. None of the aggressors were seized, even though their faces were caught on video as they were committing their crimes!
The most recent attack was on a small church in a village near the city of Aswan in southern Egypt. This attack was organized and led by the ultraconservative Muslims known as Salafis, angry over church construction in the village. In the Army’s hearing, they demanded that the cross and bells over the church building be removed, or they would tear down the entire church building. Aswan’s governor further infuriated the people by suggesting to the media that the construction of this particular church, which has existed for over 60 years, was illegal. Thus an attack on the church was imminent and indeed took place the following Friday when the Church was torn down and three houses of neighboring Christian families set on fire. The Aswan governor then simply declared that all the Muslims did was fix the Christians’ mistake of building an illegal church!
Sparked by this recent attack, and carrying a grim recent history of similar attacks, a group of Christian activists organized a peaceful demonstration on Tuesday, Oct. 4, demanding the ouster of the Aswan governor, reconstruction of the destroyed church, compensation for the families whose houses were set on fire, and the prosecution of those behind the riots and attacks on the church. The demonstration continued for several hours around the national TV headquarters, ending by the shockingly violent yet contained suppression by the Army. Christians then waited for the government’s action, but absolutely no official reaction of any type was given, in spite of warnings from officials to the government asking that they urgently hasten their response. That is why last Sunday’s demonstration was organized.
The crowds of Christians, joined by many moderate Muslims and political activists, were confronted by a few thousand military and security forces with armored vehicles by the Nile, facing the national television building. The demonstration began on Sunday afternoon as a peaceful attempt to newly demand official action to secure churches and the future rights of Christians. The demonstrators expected a peaceful demonstration, as were all the other demonstrations that have been taking place weekly since the January Revolution, but they were quickly taken aback by what ensued. Violent clashes began between the two groups, and then suddenly, to the shock of all the demonstrators, armored military vehicles sped into the crowd, striking protesters and fatally driving over at least 11! This reminded demonstrators of what took place by the police on January 28 during the Revolution…but no one expected this to come from the army who promised to protect the people and the Egyptian Revolution!
Demonstrators retaliated by throwing stones back on the attackers, setting fire to military vehicles, a bus and private cars. When Muslim demonstrators saw the bloodshed they joined the Christians against the army! The battle ended with 24 Christians dead and over four hundred injured, while no casualties were reported from the military’s side. This is the worst incident of sectarian violence since the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak in February.
Christians, who make up about 15 percent of Egypt’s eighty million people, blame the country’s ruling military council for being too lenient on those behind a spate of anti-Christian attacks since Mubarak’s ouster. As Egypt undergoes a chaotic power transition and security vacuum in the wake of the uprising, the Christian minority is particularly worried from the show of force by the different fundamentalist Islamic groups.
National TV stations followed the same path they did with the old regime, being very biased and adding fuel to the fire by prompting people to leave their homes to defend the army from the Coptic attack!
In a press conference yesterday, the Military Council completely denied the facts that their soldiers attacked the demonstrators! This is contrary to all the proof that opposes this claim presented to the whole world via satellite channels which very clearly show the army’s unprecedented and totally unjustifiable cruelty towards demonstrators! Not only does this distortion of reality from those who are currently in charge of our nation complicate things, but it also entails that the future rights of Christians will remain in limbo until the parliamentary elections of November 2011, when the type of government that will run Egypt will be determined.
While there have not been any direct threats to our ministry or families over the past months, our hearts are deeply hurt for the rest of our local Body of Christ in Egypt. We grieve with those who lost their loved ones during this tragic massacre. For the third time in its long history, the Church in Egypt declared three days of fasting and prayer to seek God to intervene to restore peace and reconciliation to the whole country.
I believe the Church in Egypt is like a tree that has been watered by the blood of martyrs over the last 2,000 years. Hundreds or even thousands of these precious sacrifices will surely cause the church to grow and abide in Christ rather than vanish! The current situations are not the hardest opposition or discrimination the Church has faced over the centuries. Our forefathers bore a lot to bring forth the heritage of the Christian faith to us, and this is what we must do too. It is now critical for every Egyptian Christian to not fear but pay close attention to the Holy Sprit’s instruction to us though the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Philippians:
“Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving together as one for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.
This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him, since you are going through the same struggle you saw I had, and now hear that I still have.”
We do not endorse any violence. As Christians we should not get trapped in the world’s ways of demanding our rights! We should abide in Him and follow His ways, continuing in our work and witness, regardless of what may ensue in the days ahead.
Please continue to pray for Egypt.
Your brother and friend,
On behalf of the ministry team